Photograph: Cannes International Film Festival
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4 out of 5 stars

Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda draws us into the hard-to-decipher world of a young boy struggling with growing up

Dave Calhoun

Time Out says

With this delicately-crafted quiet melodrama Japanese filmmaker Hirokazu Kore-eda (Shoplifters) takes us on a tricksy tour of a short period in the life of Minato (Kurokawa Soya), an 11-year-old school boy in an unnamed Japanese town. The film leans into the Oscar-nominated director’s recurring interest in families and kids, and does so via a script by Yuji Sakamoto (a rare example of Kore-eda not writing his own screenplay) which forever plays with perspective, lays false trails and circles the same events from other angles, regularly forcing us to question what we’ve already seen. 

Even the title sets off a guessing game. Is the monster in question Minato’s teacher, Mr Hori (Nagayama Eita), who the boy accuses of bullying him, so setting off an internal process that shows up the cold, bureaucratic face of the school system when Minato’s mother, Saori (Sakura Ando), dares to challenge the institution? Is the monster the blank-faced, unsympathetic school headmistress (Tanaka Yuko), who is herself recovering from a tragedy in her personal life? And what are we to think of Minato’s classmate, Eri (Hinata Hiiragi), a dreamy boy, picked on by others and who Minato himself is accused of bullying – although, like many things in Monster, that’s maybe not to be taken entirely at face value. It's clear, too, that out of school the pair are friends, and they have constructed a world of make-believe in the forest near their town, where they meet and play in an abandoned old railway carriage.

There’s loads to chew on, whether to do with parental relations, friendships, teacher-pupil relationships, bullying, social media and, more generally, not judging people too quickly. It’s mostly intriguing, watching the pieces of this fractured story emerge and combine to reveal a whole. But a lineup of red herrings brings frustrations too, and you wonder if the storytelling mechanics distract a little from what is undeniably a compassionate portrait of a pre-adolescent boy struggling in various ways with growing up.

As you’d expect from Kore-eda, it’s all told with the utmost detail and care, and a gentle score from the late Ryuichi Sakamoto only adds to the overarching air of thoughtfulness and empathy.

Monster premiered at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival.

Cast and crew

  • Director:Hirokazu Kore-eda
  • Screenwriter:Yûji Sakamoto
  • Cast:
    • Soya Kurokawa
    • Eita Nagayama
    • Sakura Andô
    • Mitsuki Takahata
    • Akihiro Kakuta
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