Directed by: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Written by: Yuji Sakamoto
Starring: Sakura Andō, Eita Nagayama, Sōya Kurokawa, Hinata Hiiragi, Yūko Tanaka, Mitsuki Takahata
Released: May 9, 2024
Grade: A-


When a topical subject matter is talked about on news sites and social media, there’s no shortage of individuals passionately weighing in with their thoughts.  It’s easy to forget that each person’s view is shaped by perspective.  Their opinions are influenced by their upbringing, their family/friends, their personality, their politics, and the level of background information they have about the subject.

This theme is delicately explored in Monster, the latest feature from acclaimed Palme d’Or winning Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters).  It’s centred on Minato (Kurokawa), an 11-year-old boy who lives with his single mother (Andō) in the small Japanese city of Suwa.  He’s a relatively quiet kid whose best friend is a fellow fifth grade student, Yori (Hiiragi).

With a runtime of just over two hours, Monster is split into three distinct acts.  Minato starts behaving oddly and the film delves into the reasons from a trio of viewpoints – his concerned mother who can’t understand what’s going on, his conflicted teacher (Nagayama) who isn’t sure how to react, and finally, the perspective of Minato himself.  As each layer is pulled back, another equally interesting plot point is revealed.  It’s easy to see why writer Yuji Sakamoto won best screenplay at last year’s Cannes Film Festival.

This is an intriguing character study from start to finish.  The whole cast pull their weight and through their performances, we understand their motivations as they navigate their way through a complex situation (I don’t want to give too much away).  Misinformation leads to confusion which leads to poor decision making.  As the audience, we can reflect on which characters (if any) deserve a harsher judgement, and if any of the outbursts could have been avoided.

Given the same story is told three times, this could easily have become ho-hum but Kore-eda keeps things fresh and interesting by varying the cinematography and focal points.  It’s like a colourful jigsaw puzzle where we can see the individual pieces but can’t see the “bigger picture” until most of the pieces are placed in the correct position.  The film’s final scene also creates discussion points to think/chat about afterwards.

With a contemplative music score from Academy Award winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto (The Last Emperor), Monster continues the recent trend of great foreign language films getting a release in Australian cinemas.