Monster (‘Kaibutsu’)

DRAMA; 2hr 6min (Japanese with subtitles)

STARRING: Sakura Andô, Eita Nagayama, Soya Kurokawa, Hinata Hiiragi

Mother lode: from left, Kurokawa and Andô

Saori and Minato (Andô and Kurokawa) are getting by as best a widowed mother and her young son can. Their lives are reinforced by routine: she works in a dry cleaner’s, he is a fifth grader. When that dual balance begins to tilt, it’s in seemingly random directions. Minato cuts his hair. He loses one sneaker but wears the other one home. More concerning is an injury to his ear, which has apparently been viciously pulled at school. When he wanders off alone one night and is retrieved by his mother from a deserted railway tunnel, he jumps from their moving car, landing, eventually, in hospital.


According to Minato, his teacher, Mr Hori (Nagayama), has been tormenting him. When Saori confronts the school authorities about Hori’s alleged physical and verbal abuse of her son (“Your brain is a pig’s brain” is a humdinger), their response is apologetic waffle. “I don’t see life in any of your eyes,” she half-begs, half-accuses. Either Saori is a smother-mother, Minato is a problem child, or the facts of the matter are another story entirely.


Recounted from the perspectives of Minato, Hori and a student whom Minato is accused of bullying (Hiiragi as Yori), Shoplifters director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s practised unpacking of the relativity of truth is cinematic origami, its overlapping folds a tapestry of viewpoints. If the true monster in this behavioural tale is the danger of snap assumptions, its real, surprising deal is a touching study in contrasts, with a story of unforeseen love that works myriad angles to earn its exultant ending.