Film, Film Review, IFFBoston

IFFBOSTON FALL FOCUS REVIEW: Monster (2023) Dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda

Kore-eda does it again!


Monster is yet another film exemplifying Kore-eda’s keen eye towards humanity’s flaws – our snap judgements, our quickening anger, our limited perspectives – forcing us to re-evaluate who we are, and how we exist with one another in a society with systems in place to push us apart. How many sides are there in a story? What can we learn about other people when we examine situations from all sides, rather than just our own? Monster builds an exercise in open-mindedness and empathy, serving as a forced re-evaluation of our internal biases and inclinations towards clear-cut ideas of right and wrong. 

Told through multiple perspectives, Monster chronicles a tense situation at school involving homeroom teacher Michitoshi Hori (Eita Nagayama) and students Minato Mugino (Sōya Kurokawa) and Yori Hoshikawa (Hinata Hiiragi). The first perspective we receive is that of the mother (Sakura Andō), immediately inclining us to side with her and uncover the truth as she expects it to be. But Kore-eda has tricked us into believing that the first side of the story is the only one. But each subsequent narrative reveals crucial details that make the situation far less clear than we first understood it as. Each performance is extremely convincing, and the individualized nature of each particular character in their separate narratives unravel slightly when they interact and begin to understand each other. 

Kore-eda is so masterful in how he encourages audiences to re-examine our structures of society. The intersection of our understanding of crime and family in Shoplifters and Broker, as well as grief and guilt in Still Walking, for example, force audiences to rethink how these structures, so rigid and ingrained in our societies, also fail us and each other. His characters are, like all of us, well-intentioned and still deeply flawed. He depicts instances of ugliness, where the way we protect our own interests, even if well-intentioned, causes harm to others. 

The way that Monster toys with chronology, and utilizes the flexibility of time and space as the medium of film understands it, deepens the impact of the story and the effect it has on audiences. Not only does it remain constantly intriguing, but it examines the limitations in our own minds and perspectives, and forces us to reckon with them. 

Kore-eda’s narratives don’t wrap up cleanly, he prods us with ambiguity and questions, forcing open-mindedness and a kind re-evaluation of the communities we inhabit, and how we affect others who are a part of it. Monster is a deconstruction of the narratives we build in our head, and the narrative of the film doesn’t matter as much as the sentiments behind Kore-eda’s chronology and the elasticity in the perspectives. He invites us to be more empathetic by encouraging us first to rework our mind’s own inhibitions. 

In his narratives and especially his directorial style, Kore-eda’s films are as heavy as they are brilliantly empathetic. His direction in Monster peels back every layer of the word, in how we attribute it to ourselves, or how we use it to label others. His thoughtfulness and empathy is profound and visible in every frame. The film is confounding and stunning, and then so rewarding in the exercise it gives to our own subconscious. Monster is brilliant, differing from most of Kore-eda’s filmography in structure and narrative, but consistent with the devastating themes and keen critique of our inner biases and flaws.

dir. Hirokazu Kore-eda
126 min.

Screened as part of IFFBoston’s Fall Focus series
Opens in select theaters Wednesday, 11/22

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