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‘Monster’ review: Hirokazu Kore-eda measures the weight of bullying on childhood friendships in tender but diffused drama


After making The truth in France and Broker in South Korea, Hirokazu Kore-eda returns for the first time since being deservedly acclaimed Shoplifters five years ago, when he worked with a script by another writer for the first time since his high-profile debut in 1995, Maborosi. Many of the peerless humanist’s frequent themes appear Sample (Kaibutsu) – loss, isolation, the elusive nature of happiness and the struggles of imperfect families – viewed from a somewhat imposing multi-perspective Rashomon-like prism. The director’s usual delicacy, compassion and sensitivity seep through the drama, though the poignant moments of clarification are more intermittent than cumulative.

With its fragmented exploration of childhood bullying, stigma, peer pressure and homophobia, as well as the ages of its young protagonists, Sample is vaguely reminiscent of the Belgian director Lukas Dhont Close to last year, albeit with more restraint and less sentiment, for better or for worse. It’s a frustrating movie in many ways, never quite emotionally satisfying, but the underlying melancholy, pierced by poignant depictions of the comfort of friendship, make it worthwhile.


It comes down to

Delivers eventually but takes a long time to get there.

Location: Cannes Film Festival (competition)
Form: Sakura Ando, ​​Eita Nagayama, Soya Kuokawa, Hinata Hiragi, Yuko Tanaka
Director: Hirokazu Kore-eda
Screenwriter: Yuji Sakamoto

2 hours 6 minutes

The film begins with a blazing fire lighting up the night sky and destroying a building in a small regional town (the unknown setting is Suwa on the banks of a lake in Nagano Prefecture). One floor of the building houses a hostess bar, and rumors that a new teacher at a local elementary school, Mr. Hori (Eita Nagayama), would be there that night deepens the shadow cast over him by much of the story.

Resident Saori (Sakura Ando, ​​out Shoplifters) and her young son Minato (Soya Kurokawa) watch from the balcony of their apartment as fire engines arrive on the scene. Saori is a sharp but loving mother who lives on modest means; she encourages Minato to honor his late father’s memory and prank him with his fanciful questions about reincarnation.

There’s a nagging – if no doubt deliberately – opaque aspect to the early scenes, as Minato returns late from school and a panicked Saori notices him behaving strangely, wandering in a forest drain and the singing chorus muttering, “Who’s the monster ?” Saori learns he has been punished and slightly injured by his homeroom teacher, Mr. Hori, for apparently behaving in class, and she descends on the school in a cold rage, demanding answers.

A common thread running through Yuki Sakamoto’s original screenplay illustrates how traditional Japanese restraint can obscure the truth, whether through formality, embarrassment, or the desire to spare one’s feelings. This is reflected in the bracing spiky scenes where an excited Saori confronts the carefully restrained headmaster, Fushimi (Yuko Tanaka), a dignified elderly woman who recently lost her grandson in tragic circumstances. She acknowledges the school’s responsibility, but reveals little by reading prepared statements before leaving, leaving Saori to deal with three men from the faculty.

When Hori humbly apologizes, first directly to Saori and then in front of the assembled 5th grade parents, the case seems closed. But a shift in perspective from Saori to Hori reveals that the situation is not so simple, which raises questions about Minato’s relationship with another student, Yori (Hinata Hiragi). That boy is a frequent target of classroom bullying, raised by his divorced father, a potentially abusive drunk.

Sakamoto’s screenplay builds intrigue by suggesting that the teachers feel they are being quietly crucified, taking the blame for false transgressions to keep complaining parents quiet and avoid retaliation from the education board. This is reflected in the rumor that Fushimi kept her professional reputation intact by making her husband the scapegoat in the death of their grandson.

Only in the last part, which shifts again to Minato’s perspective, does the nuanced nature of the bond between the two boys become clear. This extended passage is the most direct and by far the most effective part of the drama, balancing Minato’s affection for the strange, determinedly cheerful Yori against the need to keep his distance at school so as not to be rejected himself.

In one beautiful scene, Principal Fushimi and Minato gently relieve each other, providing valuable insight into the social constraints for both adult and child. But it’s especially in the interludes of refuge that Minato and Yori share, as they roam the woods or hang out there in an abandoned train car, that the boys find refuge and the film moves past its circuitous structure to reveal Kore-eda’s characteristic empathy and convey tenderness.

The performances are beautiful across the board and are rewarded by the director’s impeccable skill in working with children. The imagery is simple and naturalistic, yet emotionally resonant in images such as the two friends happily running across a stretch of sunlit greenery. The drama is complemented throughout by a soft score of piano and occasional atonal horns by the late Ryuichi Sakamoto, to whom the film, his latest project, is dedicated.

Sample is not a major Kore-eda entry, no doubt holding back too much to fully work, but there are pleasures to be found for admirers of the director’s films.

Merry C. Vega is a highly respected and accomplished news author. She began her career as a journalist, covering local news for a small-town newspaper. She quickly gained a reputation for her thorough reporting and ability to uncover the truth.

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