“Monster” (“Kaibutsu”)


Metacritic (8/10), Letterboxd (4/5), Imdb.com (8/10), TMDB.com (4/5)

The perspective from which we view a situation infallibly provides us with a clear, irrefutable picture of its truthfulness, right? But what happens if we encounter someone who witnesses the same incident and comes away from it with a totally different interpretation? Both views can’t be “right,” can they? Or is it possible that none of us can see the totality of a scenario and claim to know everything about it? That’s the core takeaway from director Kore-eda Hirokazu’s latest feature, an ambitious, skillfully crafted tale told from multiple vantage points, all of them “correct” in their own right, despite the myriad differences that distinguish them from one another, a storytelling technique first developed by Japanese master filmmaker Akira Kurosawa in the screen classic “Rashomon” (1950). Kore-eda’s cinematic homage to the famed auteur, told in three separate but interconnected segments, focuses on the exploits of a rebellious pre-teen (Soya Kurokawa) seemingly prone to acting out as a bully. The youth’s unpredictable behavior, however, doesn’t tell the whole story. His actions appear to be cryptically interwoven with those of his overly protective widowed mother (Sakura Ando), his young middle school teacher (Eita Nagayama), his aging, softspoken principal (Yuko Tanaka), and his effervescent best friend (Hinata Hiiragi), many of whom aren’t always what they seem to be. There are forces at work here that are a cause for concern, prompting the often-asked question, “Who is the monster?”, a query that provides the inspiration for this film’s title. It’s intriguing to watch how the picture’s various story threads come together, reminding us of the old adage of not judging a book by its cover, poignantly illustrating that, no matter how much we may think we know about a particular situation, there’s a good chance we’ll never get a complete picture of it. Kore-eda serves up an eye-opening tale, one that gives us pause to think about our impressions and preconceptions in an age when many of us are all too quick to superficially judge what we see – and in a frequently flawed framework at that. The picture could stand to be a little more swiftly paced at times (especially in the final act), but this is arguably the director’s best and most sensitive work to date, one that, we can only hope, will have the kind of profound impact we need in an age where open-mindedness and tolerance are traits we could all stand to develop to a much greater degree – particularly when pieces of the puzzle are missing.