Just last year Hirokazu Kore-eda competed for another Palme d’Or with his South Korean adoption drama Broker, having previously won the award in 2018 with Shoplifters. This year the Japanese director is back in Competition yet again with a production from his native country.
When her son starts to exhibit depressive behaviour, a single mother (Sakura Ando) urges his school to launch an investigation into one of his teachers, suspecting physical abuse. But the word “monster” is thrown around rashly. The events that portentously start with a fire and end with a flood are revisited through different eyes until the full picture emerges. By then it may be too late.
The multi-layered microcosm a school setting provides seems to have inspired a new subgenre: the classroom thriller. Mere days ago, Berlinale surprise hit The Teacher’s Lounge won at the German Film Awards (prevailing over All Quiet on the Western Front). While stylistically and on a production and technical basis, the two films are incomparable, both are dedicated to the sheer frustration of each party fighting on multiple fronts (children vs parents vs school system). The screenplay by Yuji Sakamoto offers not only a poignant exploration of these dynamics, but a perceptive look at the upheaval of adolescence and the devastating effects of bullying.
Flowing movements in judicious camerawork capture these characters in their spheres and invoke the audience’s sensitivity. An image of rain pelting onto the window of an abandoned railroad car and painting abstract patterns into the dirt reverberates long after the lights in the cinema come on and tear us from the film’s world. The resonating score by Ryuichi Sakamoto (completed shortly before his death) completes the haunting atmosphere.
It is clear why Kore-eda wanted to team up with Ando again: tapping into her bottomless talent, he draws out an iridescent performance, one of candour and parental woe alike. Young actors Kurokawa Soya and Hiiragi Hinata are gifted and surely this is not the last time film fans will hear of them.
Despite only premiering on day two, Monster is already an early favourite for a festival Jury Prize.
Kaibutsu (Monster) does not have a UK release date yet.
Read more reviews from our Cannes Film Festival 2023 coverage here.
For further information about the event visit the Cannes Film Festival website here.
Watch the trailer for Kaibutsu (Monster) here: