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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Oct 11, 2023



HIROKAZU KORE-EDA is an acclaimed Japanese filmmaker best known for “Shoplifters” that won the Cannes Filmfest best picture award and was nominated in the Oscars.

He then directed films in France, “The Truth”, and South Korea, “Broker”. 

He now returns to Japan with “Monster (Kaibutsu)” that competed in Cannes last May and won the Queer Palm and best screenplay awards. 

It is the last film scored by famous Japanese composer Ryuichi Sakamoto who won the Oscar for “The Last Emperor”. He passed early this year and “Monster” is dedicated to his memory.

The film has three distinct acts and each is flavored by his emotionally affecting beautiful piano score.

The film will remind you of the classic “Rashomon” where the story is told from different perspectives. It’s a structure already used locally in “Salome”.

In “Monster”, the narrative is told from three different points of view and each narrative examines what happens between an apartment fire and a raging storm.

The lives of the main characters are shown individually then they all converge and intersect in a grade school.

We first meet Saori (Sakura Ando), a widow and single mom who earns a living as laundry worker. 

She is alarmed when her son Minato (Soya Kurokawa) starts behaving erratically, calling himself a monster. 

She suspects it has something to do with his teacher, Michitoshi Hori (Eita Nagayama). 

She storms the school to confront the teacher who is new to the school and wants to make a good impression.

She also reports this to the school’s principal, Makiko Fushimi (Yoko Tanaka), who is quite evasive.

But things gets muddled when Minato’s classmate, Yori Hoskiawa (Hinata Hiiragi), shows that he is being bullied. 

Saori’s search for the truth becomes even more complicated and convoluted.  

At first, the viewer will totally sympathize with her being the mother. We worry with her as she becomes disturbed by her son’s puzzling behavior.  

We understand it when she keeps saying “what the fuck” as the school authority’s reactions to her allegations seem unsatisfactory. Like her, the viewer is wondering and gets affected when they declare that it’s just a case of misunderstanding. 

But then, we have yet to get the full picture.

And to get it, you have to watch the intricacies of the entire film, as the situations in the first act will differ from how they will appear in the second act as told from the teacher’s perspective, and in the significant final act as seen from the eyes of the child himself.

That’s all about what we can share in this review to avoid spoilers. 

Just know that it’s a slow but steady way of revealing the story from the multiple points of view of the various characters, showing how seemingly minor additional details can alter the intention and meaning of someone’s actions. 

Kore-eda treats the material with compassion and comes up with an exceptionally nuanced and very touching investigative drama connecting individual versions of similar situations to come up with a much more complex revelation of what the truth really is. 

It so happens that characters who seem guilty of doing something bad at first glance is just the victim of innocent coincidence from an antagonistic point of view.

It’s like you’re watching a quilt being made, with little mysteries sewn into the mundane lives of ordinary people and with things later leading to either a devastating or liberating development for the characters. 

This demonstrates that you should not easily believe what you see, as things certainly are not what they seem. And this surely is the whole point of this well crafted film.

The film’s title is “Monster” so you will be wondering who it is referring to. 

Over the course of the film, this becomes fluid as you figure out who is the character that acts like a monster, who is the character treated like one and who should really be identified as a monster.

Ando as the mom, Nagayama as the teacher and Tanaka as the principal all give competent, fairly compelling performances. 

But the film really belongs to the two fantastic boys: Kurokawa as the seemingly troubled Minato and Hiiragi as the delightfully playful Yori. 

The confused reactions and assumptions on the friendship of the two boys become the film’s core and the young actors exhibit a poignant vulnerability in portraying their roles as they run through the forest with innocent and lyrical wonder. 

The manner in which adults view situations is just wildly different to how children do it.

The film will make you bear in mind that children can easily hide their feelings from adults, specially when it comes to the discovery of new feelings that they have yet to fully understand, so don’t just quickly into conclusions.

We would like to thank Lorna Tolentino, Ria Atayde and Sylvia Sanchez whose film distribution company, Nathan Studios, is releasing this very satisfying film in our country. "Monster" is now showing in local theaters nationwide. Don't miss it!