Monster (2023), the latest film by renowned director Hirokazu Kore-eda, is gaining worldwide acclaim during the film festival season. The motion picture won the Best Screenplay Award at the Cannes Film Festival, thanks to exceptional writing by Yuji Sakamoto.
Sixty-year-old director Kore-eda usually writes his own screenplays, making Monster somewhat of an exception. The last time Kore-eda directed a film he hadn't written himself was his debut film Phantom Light (1995.)
The film score was written by revered composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, who passed away in March 2023, making Monster a one-of-a-kind collaboration.
Director Kore-eda shared his thoughts on the making of the film with The Sankei Shimbun.
Toho Co Ltd producers Genki Kawamura and Kenji Yamada worked on the story with screenwriter Yuji Sakamoto. They produced a story with a long, intricate plot, and Kore-eda was the first director they reached out to.
Upon reading the script, Kore-eda immediately agreed to take the project on, saying, "This is truly fascinating, and I absolutely want to be a part of it."
The Road to Casting
The story revolves around a single mother who lost her husband in an accident and lives with her fifth-grader son. She is portrayed by Sakura Ando, who worked with Kore-eda in the Cannes Palme d'Or winning film Shoplifters (2018).
Screenwriter Sakamoto recalled feeling overwhelmed and "trembling" when the casting came together exactly as he had hoped.
After determining the main roles, Sakamoto tailored the script for each actor. "Once we decided the cast, the focus was then to hone in on individual characters," he explained.
For the two main child roles, the cast unanimously agreed on 13-year-old Souya Kurokawa and 11-year-old Yota Hiiragi. "The two were the best at grasping their roles and delivered exceptional performances," he lauded.
A New Rashomon?
In the film, the mother becomes suspicious that her 11-year-old son had suffered corporal punishment at the hands of a school teacher. The tale unfolds through the eyes of three key characters: the mother, the teacher, and the child.
"When I first read the plot, I found the structure reminiscent of Rashomon," reflected Kore-eda.
Globally acclaimed film Rashomon (1950), directed by Akira Kurosawa, centers on the murder of a samurai living in the 12th-century Heian period. Like Monster, the film presents contradictory narratives from the viewpoint of three primary characters: the samurai's wife, a captured bandit, and the spirit of the slain samurai.
At the end of Kurosawa's film, an eyewitness recounts the accurate version of the facts. It becomes clear that all three previous accounts were riddled with lies.
Monsters Around Us
However, unlike Rashomon, Kore-eda's Monster never provides a definitive truth.
Depending on the point of view, the main characters can be perceived differently: the mother as a monster parent, the teacher as an ostrich with his head in the sand, and the child as untrustworthy.
Monster depicts the increasing fragility of contemporary human relationships, particularly in today's society. Director Kore-eda said, "After the pandemic, I felt the story became even more relevant." He explained how people we fail to comprehend seem to lose their humanity in our eyes, transforming them into monsters.
"In reality, monsters don't exist, yet we still see them. If monsters were real, dealing with them would be straightforward. We could just slay them. But monsters don't exist, which makes them interesting but also terrifying — because it means they cannot be defeated."
The film, lasting 126 minutes, opened in Japan on June 2.
About Hirokazu Kore-eda
Hirokazu Kore-eda was born in Tokyo in 1962. After graduating from Waseda University, he joined the production company TV Man Union Inc in 1987. In 1995, he marked his directional debut with the film Phantom Light. For his role in Kore-eda's film Nobody Knows, Yuya Yagira won the Best Actor Award at the Cannes International Film Festival in 2004. In 2013, Like Father, Like Son won the Cannes Jury Prize. In 2018, Shoplifters won the Palme d'Or, the festival's highest award.
- Cannes Film Festival: Spotlight On Three Japanese Film Figures
- Director Mayu Nakamura Offers a Fresh Perspective on Japanese Women in Film
- Film Director Hirobumi Watanabe: A New Genius in the Making
- EDITORIAL | Cannes Double Win a Reminder to the World of Japan's Filmmaking Caliber
Author: Keiko Mizunuma
(Read the article in Japanese.)