By Erin Chew
For many fictional films where there is some sort of drama or dilemma, the good and the bad characters are not hard to identify. However, when the film is so layered, complex and full of different perspectives, there is no way to identify which characters are bad and which ones are good. This is why Japanese film Monster, directed by Kore-eda Hirokazu is so compelling because it forces the issue of perspective which allows the film’s narrative to evolve and hence who may seem like a bad character at the start may not necessarily be one towards the end.
At a recent screening of Monster, Hirokazu discussed that the point of the film was for audiences to think and see all the different sides of each character in the film.
“When you see a character in Monster act odd or a bit extreme, it doesn’t mean they are bad and/or good. They can be a bit of both and they all have experienced some sort of loss and/or trauma in their lives which makes them the way they are. It is up to the audience to interpret the characters and the meaning they give the film”.
One interpretation of the film is that it represents the idea of loneliness. Each character is longing for something, some solace and an out from their current situation. Some characters are grieving, some feel guilty, others feel different and some feel isolated. All are lonely in some way. For the film’s writer Yuji Sakamoto, loneliness was the inspiration for his writing of the film. This is also an issue in Japan itself, and Sakamoto wanted his writing to also be a commentary on Japanese society.
“Do you notice every character is experiencing some form of loneliness? I think that is one of the main themes I wanted to show in my writing for the film. One memory which really said it all for my inspiration was a friend of mine from childhood who suddenly left. We were close like brothers and I felt so much pain, loss and loneliness. I feel this is a feeling that is spreading in Japanese society, and that is the feeling I wanted to show in my writing”, Sakamoto expressed.
The film included many other important themes including family relationships and issues around LGBTIQ relationships. The primary child protagonists for the film – Minato Mugino (Sōya Kurokawa) and Yori Hoshikawa (Hinata Hiiragi) have a friendship which turns into a childhood romance. The two young actors portrayed their relationship beautifully, with acting skills beyond their years.
Director Hirokazu touched on this and stated that a lot of research went into learning how to present issues around sexuality and it was the experience and the natural skills of the two child actors that made the presentation of this issue perfect.
“Issues around sexuality and the LGBTIQ community is a serious issue. Where sexuality is open in Japanese society, it is still largely a traditional and conservative country where many discriminations still exist. In preparation for the film we consulted with LGBTIQ experts and had support specialists in this area for Soya and Hinata to help them better understand LGBTIQ issues and ensure they were okay in the process of their performances in the film. I hope that showing this will start to change societal ideals in Japan to be more open and understanding”, Hirokazu stated.
All in all, Monster is a beautiful film which included enough complexities and layers to make the audience wonder. The ending (without providing spoilers) is one which is up for interpretation – a very curious wondering.
In addition to Kurokawa and Hiiragi, the film’s cast also includes other Japanese acting big names such as Sakura Ando, Eita Nagayama, Mitsuki Takahata, Shido Nakamura and Yuko Tanaka.
Monster was first released at the 2023 Cannes Film Festival on May 17, 2023 and had its Japan theatrical release on June 2, 2023. It has just been released in selected US theaters, so please check out Well Go USA for theater screenings.
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