It is not every day that we come across a cinematic masterpiece like Monster, or 怪物 (Kai-butsu) by Hirokazu Kore-eda. Pursuing a triptych arrangement previously seen in Nolan’s Dunkirk, the movie unfolds its central plot through the narratives of three different characters, conveying the utter disparity in their perspectives and the backgrounds that lead to their conclusions about each other. Within this beautifully complex structure, Monster conceals a deceptively simple yet endearing and poignant story, compelling enough to sweep us into this emotional rollercoaster while we find ourselves demonizing and empathizing with the characters at the same time. This movie also presents itself as a spectacle of the socio-political bureaucracy in Japan, heteronormative conservatism in modern Japanese society, neurodiversity, and the innate curiosity and queer identity in children. Using subtle motifs, Kore-eda’s commentary on Japanese society provokes a sense of bitter-sweet nostalgia in the viewer.
Who Is Michitoshi Hori?
Throughout the first act, revolving around Saori Mugino, a widowed mother working at the laundromat, the movie paints a picture of the monster in the form of Michitoshi Hori, or Hori Sensei. It is every mother’s nightmare to have her young son be mistreated and bullied, which is why, being a sharp-witted mother, Saori tries her best to dig into her son’s strange behavior throughout the plot. Likewise, the answers to her questions point her towards Hori Sensei, her 5th grader son, Minato Mugino’s homeroom teacher, who is introduced, in passing, as a lonely man who visits the local hostess bar. Subsequently, Saori makes a complaint against him to the school authorities, who do not take her seriously and prefer not to move past the typical Japanese courtesies, constantly repeating “申し訳ございません” (Moushi-wake gozaimasen, “What we did is inexcusable”). They even portray that Hori pulling the child’s ear is a misunderstanding, stating that his hand had contact with Minato’s nose instead. Even Hori Sensei comes off as disorganized and unapologetic for his actions, branding her with stereotypes that people readily associate with single mothers. When Minato’s strange behavior persists, Saori once again visits the school authorities, who claim that Hori sensei has been fired, but ends up spotting him again in the corridor. Realizing that the authorities have been lying, she engages Hori, who asserts that her son is the bully instead. Searching for answers, she visits Yori Hoshikawa, Minato’s classmate, who, despite his unusual demeanor, expresses concern for Minato. During the visit, Saori spots injuries on Yori’s hands, prompting her to arrange another meeting with the authorities, bringing Yori to the office to report the bullying. Quite unexpectedly, Yori agrees that Hori has been harsh towards her son, and the entire class fears him. Later in the act, Hori is asked to resign for physically and verbally abusing his students. A few days later, Saori rushes to the school after she is informed that Minato fell down the stairs after Hori tried to chase him.
What Was Hori’s Perspective?
With the introduction of the second act, we revisit the events of the first act through the eyes of the monster, Michitoshi Hori. Contrary to his previous characterization, the teacher, who is in his mid-20s, is rather loyal to his girlfriend and has brought up the prospect of getting married. While walking over to his apartment with her, the couple comes across the ablaze hostess bar and is spotted by his students, who hastily record his meeting with his girlfriend on their phones, erroneously claiming her as a worker from the hostess bar. The narrative leaves unclear whether she indeed works at the bar or not, however, it was at this point that his false reputation as a patron of the infamous bar spread like wildfire across the community. The next day, on the way to work, Hori sees Yori Hoshikawa on the ground, putting his shoes on, as he picks himself up. The teacher helps him up while gathering his belongings scattered around him. In the middle of a conversation between Hori and a fellow teacher, the movie hints at the prospect of the monster being the parents instead, who wouldn’t hesitate before crucifying the teachers.
Later in the day, on the way to his lesson, Hori comes across a commotion in the class. It turns out Minato was throwing the belongings of his classmates across the corridor. The teacher rushes to intervene, urging Minato to stop, but accidentally hits his hand across the child’s nose. Hori immediately apologizes to Minato, holds him gently, and empathetically asks him to apologize to the class, demonstrating a lesson about compassion. However, Minato’s nose starts to bleed, which later acts as another key instance leading to his unfortunate witch trial. The following evening, Hori mentions the incident from earlier to his girlfriend, who suggests that Minato acts out because he’s the child of a single parent, who are usually overprotective towards their children and carry a shrewd perspective. Hori, however, defends Saori’s position, claiming he was raised by a single mother as well. The next day, Hori is approached by the staff at what appears to be an intervention. They claim that Minato’s parents have protested against his behavior. Clueless at first, Hori begins to realize that he is being framed by Minato. Despite the truth, he is persuaded to go along with the demands of the school authority, which has other plans for Hori’s fate.
Who Does Hori Believe To Be The Monster?
Hori Sensei comes to realize that Yori is being bullied by the students. He, however, concludes that the aggressor is likely to be Minato, as the teacher sees him fleeing from the school restroom, leaving Yori locked in one of the stalls. Hori Sensei visits Yori’s drunkard father, hoping to seek help for Yori, but is disappointed to see the father chiding Yori for his effeminacy and possibly his queerness. As a last resort, the helpless teacher summons Yori to testify against Minato in front of Saori, but Yori puts all the blame on the teacher instead. Following an unfair kangaroo court, Hori is urged to publicly submit to the allegations and resign from his position as a teacher at the school. Hori’s life falls into disarray after the ordeal. His girlfriend leaves him, and he is pestered by the media and harassed by his community. In a nutshell, he is ostracized from society, and hence, the movie empathizes with the previously accused monster, turning our focus to Minato’s unjust actions against the innocent teacher.
After another series of events, Hori stumbles upon Yori’s homework while clearing out his belongings and notices Minato’s name cryptically arranged in the texts, revealing that they were indeed friends, contrary to his misconception. Following the realization, we see the teacher rushing to the Mugino residence in the middle of a typhoon, frantically crying for forgiveness for his own misunderstandings as an adult against a child.
Was Hori Sensei Really A Monster?
During the second act, Hori’s true nature is revealed as that of a rather empathetic man who takes his work seriously as a young teacher. He plans to marry his girlfriend, in contrast to the rumors about him. Hori does not appear to be the kind of person who believes in baseless logic, a virtue that can be seen in many instances. The first is when he harmlessly defends Saori against his girlfriend’s claims. In another instance, he seems indifferent towards his colleague’s claims that parents are monsters. His empathy and support as a teacher know no bounds, which can be seen in his demeanor towards Minato and Yori. Regardless of the entire ordeal that robbed Hori’s life of his livelihood and status in society, he does not hesitate to accept his faults and apologize to Mugino. So, the answer is no. Michitoshi Hori is far from being the Monster after all.
Why Do Yori And Minato Not Share Their Problems With Hori?
Regardless of his virtues, Hori can be seen harmlessly throwing heteronormative statements around his students while not realizing the impact of his words. Yori is often chided for his effeminacy and queerness, of which he seems self-aware. For a young queer child suffering from rejection-sensitive dysphoria, a condition prevalent in queer and neurodivergent individuals, it is indeed very harsh to face one’s own feelings while fearing rejection in the form of “Be a man.” Even after Minato suggests that he tell Hori Sensei about the bullying, Yori is apprehensive, fearing a similar form of rejection.