Monster is a lot to take in. But it’s a relief to have Hirokazu Kore-eda back on his home turf, unabashed with melodrama that feels nothing but sincere. Kore-eda’s decision to relinquish the pen to Yuji Sakamoto not only got the film the Best Screenplay Award at Cannes but also gave him the space to do what he does best—exploring the reassurances of kinship in both conventional and unusual circumstances.
What Happens In The Film?
The range of emotions and headspaces, defying and conforming to societal codes and rules, are spread out between the three acts that come together and make up Monster. Kore-eda is known for his earnest understanding of love in familial and social dynamics. And the same gets more and more evident the more we see Saori’s relationship with her son, Minato. Little Minato isn’t entirely aloof from his mother, and for his age, he’s rather sympathetic toward Saori’s challenges as a single mother. But not all is well in Saori’s household. Before the embers from a local building going up in flames even have the time to dissipate into the air, Saori’s anxious eyes see signs of trouble on Minato’s quiet, gloomy face. He’s been coming back from school with mysterious bruises and a growing paranoia over something monstrous replacing his normalcy and perverting what make him human. The fifth grader’s homeroom teacher, Mr. Hori, is apparently to blame for Minato’s being found in a concerning condition, hidden in the dark embrace of an abandoned tunnel. When the terrified and enraged mother shows up at the school to put an end to her son’s torment, it is as though the principal and everyone else in her office have gotten infected by a virus—one that affects their ability to form anything other than frustratingly vague sentences.
Why Was Saori Against Mr. Hori?
From the fleeting bits and pieces scattered here and there, especially the possible affair that Minato mentions, it’s fair to speculate that Saori didn’t have a great marriage with her late husband. Although it’s not always done with manipulative intent, a dead parent being deified and held up as the one the kid should never do anything to disappoint is often an end-product of parental anxiety. Saori isn’t perfect. But she’s surely a mother who won’t keep mum as the school authority vexatiously dodges their responsibilities in the whole matter. Minato has accused Mr. Hori of abuse, and his nervous disposition and accusations of bullying against Minato don’t particularly work in his favor. It also doesn’t help that there’s gossip about Hori being seen around the notorious hostess bar that burned down along with the rest of the building. Yakamoto’s screenplay relies on individual perspectives to get us familiar with all sides of the story, but it’s also committed to being a loyal, non-judgmental mouthpiece for each one of them. Our takeaway is never anything other than the most ardent emotions swirling around inside the one whose turmoil we’re following. And in the case of Saori, you see the overwhelming trepidations of a single mom in the face of a seemingly unhelpful system.
Did Mr. Hori Abuse Minato?
When Hori’s perspective takes us back to the dreadful night of the fire, it doesn’t take long before the man is painted in a whole new light. The Hori we’ve seen from Saori’s paranoid perspective seemed to be unstable and dangerous. That is solely because, very understandably, the single mother saw the jittery man standing before her as someone who’s been the reason her son’s physical and emotional states have taken a significant hit. It’s now, on your second trip around the events, that you see that it really was all a big misunderstanding. The accusations are not quite convincing for someone who can’t even let go of the sick fish perpetually sunken at the bottom of the aquarium. Hori’s girlfriend’s purpose is twofold: one is to clear his name in the whole hostess bar gossip as she is the one who works there, and the other is to be a device in the hands of Hori’s fate. If he hadn’t been dismissed, misunderstood, berated, and harassed by the school authority, who only cared about protecting the school against the parents’ wrath, he would’ve never taken a clear look around and would’ve overlooked things of utmost significance. In the same way, his girlfriend abandoning him at his lowest point only serves as the push that he needs to look at what really matters. It was to pacify Minato’s fit of rage that Hori had to intervene in the classroom chaos. Neither the nosebleed nor the ear injury Minato sustained from another meltdown were Hori’s fault. He was persecuted for his innocence and faith in the goodness of people.
How Was Minato’s Relationship With Yori?
Minato and Yori’s complex dynamic as adolescents figuring their way out in the maze of existence unfolds in layers, partly through Hori’s perspective and that of Minato. While Yori did lie about his teacher’s abusive streak, he was honest about his experience with Minato. Monster takes a break and indulges itself in a little amusement every time we see how Hori wasn’t necessarily wrong in seeing Minato as a bully, but at the same time, he wasn’t right in his assessment either. Through this strangely montage-y cascade of the truth, it becomes increasingly apparent that every time Minato was in a circumstance that painted him in a bad light, he had no part to play in it at all. Minato and Yori have a tender connection, the taboo bearings of which terrify little Minato. Monster is desolate, not enraged, in its quiet observations of internalized heteronormativity, and it sometimes sees this demon in the company of another—the rabid hate and absolute cruelty imprinted on children. His troubled feelings about liking a boy paralyze Minato as his heart breaks at the sight of sweet Yori being pushed around by their mean classmates. Their affection guards them against the cold brutality of their world when they’re in the mossy train car. Only each other to confide in—no bitterness or preset expectations to live up to—Yori and Minato are the most alive when around each other.
What Happens To Yori And Minato?
Monster is never quiet. But the talk is never one-sided, either. The more you see, the more you’re actively becoming a part of the discourse that binds the three acts together. Through the eyes of Monster, self-doubt, born of whatever cause, is all that is standing against happiness. It’s undeniable that Minato lied so much that he freaked his mother out and destroyed Hori’s life. But he’s not at fault here. He’s grown up around a mother who’s inadvertently been pressuring him to conform to the heteronormative preferences of society. Like the time a morose Minato is driven home by Saori and told that she’ll ease up when he’s found a stereotypical family. Even all the gendered expectations around him must burden Minato. Even someone as sweet as Hori associates sports skills with masculinity. There’s no space for him to ponder over his feelings for Yori when his classmates relentlessly bully Yori for not meeting their benchmarks of manliness. Not falling victim to peer pressure to join the bandwagon against Yori’s individuality will only make Minato their next target. Who could he have told?
It’s not simply the fact that Minato lies. All children do. And no matter the love and affection in a parent-child dynamic, there are bound to be complexities that need frustrating loops of trial and error to resolve. Yori’s father is as bad as they come. It’s him who’s been feeding little Yori with disturbing insecurities over his sexual identity. To the alcoholic man who frequents the hostess bar, his son is a pig in a human’s body. And it’s that very monster he claims to purge when he beats Yori black and blue. While all this does startle Minato into his brazen judgment about Yori’s father, he’s aware that there are things he doesn’t feel comfortable sharing with his mother. By the time he died, Minato’s father had already abandoned his family. And knowing it, it only hit Minato with the force of two tremendous kinds of grief. One over losing his father to another woman, and another over his death. It was Saori’s choice to deny his wrongs, born out of a protective instinct, of course, that made it all the more difficult for Minato to truly trust his mother. So, Yori’s father’s abusive remarks turned into things said by Mr. Hori when they came out of Minato’s mouth—lies he only very vaguely acknowledged to the principal. It’s here that Monster is enraged against people’s desire to gatekeep happiness. If it’s supposed to be exclusive to those who threaten and those who conform, it’s not real happiness.
Happiness is what Minato and Yori have created in the abandoned train car—the one that now bears witness to Saori and Hori’s heartbreaking desperation to find the two kids lost in the typhoon-stricken city. It was shame and fear that crippled Minato, and didn’t let him sleep at night or acknowledge his reality out in the open. The same fear eluded Yori, whose submission and spasms of revolt confused his abusive father. The burdensome influence of his culture keeps him from speaking ill of his father. But it didn’t stop him from lighting the hostess bar on fire. It’s only when Yori’s in a bad state, left to writhe in pain by his father, that Minato’s fear takes a backseat; he takes Yori and runs to their safe haven—so safe, believes Minato, that even a typhoon won’t touch it.
Monster‘s ending, in contrast to its ambiguity otherwise, is outspoken about its wish. It wants to see Minato and Yori crawl over the mud and the sharp rocks of life so that they can run free in the sunlit green. Minato and Yori’s survival isn’t likely. The very real possibility that it’s only a sequence of warm imaginations isn’t something that the ending wants to be about. It’s about what should ideally happen, not what does. Because, beyond all perspectives, there are absolute rights and wrongs in the world.