In the land of towering kaijus, mecha robots, and Ultramen, there is a seeping creature that's killing children on the ground, a paralyzing amalgam of shame and confusion brought by the systemic flaws of society. None of the grown-ups saw it coming, nor the role they played in unleashing the monster.
Make no mistake. The title may be a misnomer. While the Queer Palm and Cannes Best Screenplay-winning film plays during the Halloween month in the Philippines, Monster (Kaibutsu) is a Japanese drama offering that melds discussion about family, educational institutions, friendship, and love into a story with so many twists and turns that the film unveils one villain to another.
Still, the best way to experience the movie is to watch it without knowing where the story goes. All you need to know is how it begins—single mother Saori Mugino (Sakura Ando) finds her son Minato (Soya Kurokawa) bloodied and chanting “monster” alone in a dark tunnel. Blame is then pointed to Minato’s kind-hearted class adviser Michitoshi Hori (Eita Nagayama).
Director Hirokazu Kore-eda of the Shoplifters and Broker fame might be the default reason for cinephiles to see this in the theaters. But the film’s strength heavily lies in the well-structured screenplay by Yūji Sakamoto, befitting of the aforementioned Cannes nod. Sakamoto divides the movie into three parts with different central characters, the first two ending with cliffhangers resolved in the succeeding act.
Despite its astute format of shifting characters’ POVs, the film still gets its emotional beats right in many places. Along the way, it even shows multitudes in which humans fail to connect, which branch to more problems diverting from the real conflict.
Kore-eda scatters clues for the viewers to uncover the mystery themselves. One also needs a keen eye to see the subtle hints between reality and the afterlife. The director is a master of foreshadowing, almost god-like in crafting a well-connected world from a seemingly random deceased cat to a gated train track, all preparing you for an impactful turn of events.
Once you get the symbolisms, you will understand why humor is part of the personality of Yori Hoshikawa (Hinata Hiiragi), Minato’s free-spirited friend; and why Minato himself is panicky and frequently angry. You will also see parallelisms between Yori’s father Kiyotaka (Shido Nakamura) and real-life personalities who compare people they do not understand with animals.
In the same vein as the novel and animated series A Dog of Flanders and the critically acclaimed Filipino movie John Denver Trending, Monster is so soul-searing that it wakes your deepest emotions. For bigots, I hope the film makes them face their prejudices and examine the power of their words, actions, and even, indifference.
In the world of Monster, not too far-fetched from ours, truths equate to chaos while lies are the arsenal of those who maintain order. Too bad this status quo is what keeps the allegorical monster persisting, and harming the children.
Monster opens in Philippine cinemas on Oct. 11. Watch the trailer below.