DIFF 2024 Review | Bittersweet Monster Explores the Intimacies and Intricacies of the Human Condition

A building is set ablaze. A teenage boy, Minato (Soya Kurokawa) and his mother, Saori (Sakora Ando) watch as it is engulfed in flames. Saori excitedly watches fire trucks rush to its rescue, but Minato seems wholly disinterested.

This dynamic continues throughout most of the first act of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Monster as Minato disappears further and further into himself much to the distress of his mother. Ando continues her celebrated collaboration with Kore-eda following 2018’s Shoplifters as a young, widowed mother who is both worried for and about her son. Will he hurt himself? Will he hurt others? Following an incident of self-harm, Minato reveals to his mother that he has a pig brain and is no longer human. This idea, according to Minato, was planted in his head by his teacher Hori (Eita Nagayama). Saori approaches the school principal to raise her concerns but is literally crowded out by bureaucracy in one of the film’s finest scenes. Ando’s tired and confounded face displays the draining effect of corporate platitudes without any action. Hori’s seeming disinterest in the accusations seems to indict him as the titular monster until he breaks free from his apologetic script and accuses Minato of bullying another student.

A building is set ablaze. A lonely young teacher and a paid companion watch as it is engulfed in flames. The second act of Monster follows the timeline of the first but from Hori’s perspective. We watch as the inexperienced teacher is warned that parents have become an angry mob chasing school faculty with pitchforks and torches over any minor inconvenience. Hori doesn’t seem much older than some of his students, wearing a tracksuit to class and attempting to connect with them through unique teaching methods. Nori takes particular interest in a peculiar boy, Yori (Hinata Hiiragi), who is the victim of constant ridicule from the other boys in class. Following a misunderstanding, Nori is convinced that Minato is bullying Yori and is portraying himself as a victim in order to protect himself. Nori becomes an amateur sleuth trying to collect evidence that Minato is a particularly troubled child to no avail.

What once seemed like an unflinching abuser becomes a desperate destitute man. Minato’s attempts to clear his name only push him further to the edge of society, no longer able to pay a woman for her company. The final segment of Minato’s act provides the most beautiful image of the entire film as he and Saori scrape away at a muddy window, battered by raindrops, unable to see what’s inside as the truth is hidden beneath a constantly refilling dirty barrier.


A building is set ablaze. A young boy cheerily flees the scene. The truth is finally revealed. Kore-eda has always excelled at exploring the intimacies and intricacies of the human condition. Those quiet moments of introspection that reveal the truths we are unwilling to face. The third act of Monster proves that almost thirty years after the quietly devastating Maborosi, Kore-eda is still an unparalleled humanist director. This is made all the more impressive that the majority of this section follows two child actors.

This is well trodden territory for Kore-eda, but Sayo Kurokawa is especially captivating as the conflicted coming of age Minato. Masculinity literally hangs over him in the form of his deceased father’s rugby jersey, to which he asks, ‘why was I born?’ Minato feels guilty for reluctantly bullying Yori and apologises to him privately while shunning him publicly. This secret friendship continues to blossom into something more. A hand left lingering a little too long. Minato cannot face the truth himself or tell anyone how he feels. Yori’s abusive father attempts to remove his son’s ‘pig brain’ and turn him into a “normal” boy to no avail. One of the few celebratory moments revelling in the freedom of truth comes when Sori reveals that his father has not “cured” him.

Minato and Sori do not need to communicate the truth to each other, their unspoken bond allows them to be themselves together in their shared universe. The monster implicated by the film is sadly our society that cannot grant them that same freedom.

Monster was screened as part of Dublin International Film Festival 2024 and is in cinemas today

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