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Kore-eda’s ‘Monster’: A True Love Story

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The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Delhi North chapter.

Content Warning: Mentions of Bullying, Homophobia, Mental Illness, Family Trauma, Queerphobia, and Suicide

Monster (2023), directed by Kore-eda Hirokazu, is a thriller drama that explores the relationship between a mother, her son, and his teacher. The story begins as we look at a building burning to the ground—a blazing fire in the middle of the city. As the story progresses, this beginning restarts three times as we follow the three protagonists recounting their versions of the events that take place in the film. The first story begins with a single mother, Saori (Sakura Ando), as she watches the building light up on fire from her balcony, along with her son, Minato (Soya Kurokawa). As Saori’s day continues after the fire, she notices changes in her son’s behavior. When she forces him to talk to her, he reluctantly reveals to his mother that Mr. Hori (Eita Nagayami), his teacher, has labeled him a “pig brain” and hits him. Furious with the behavior on the teacher’s part, her mother storms the school to admonish the behavior of the teacher in front of the council and the principal. A disciplinary action is launched, but it resolves to nothing. The mystery is further heightened by the apathetic, almost disinterested response of the school board. They seem very unwilling to listen to the mother, they mishear her genuine concerns and give all plausible benefit of doubt to the teacher, seemingly to maintain the school’s reputation. Frustrated beyond reproach by the school board’s behavior, Saori is quite shattered and loses her courage. She relinquishes to the system. In all this hullaballoo, she loses sight of her son and when the storm strikes the town, her son disappears. The only person who seems to hold an answer to the mysterious disappearance of her son is Mr. Hori. The story then restarts on the night the building lit up and continues with Mr Hori’s devastating and unfortunate chain of events. Throughout the film, one is prompted to question, “Who is the real monster?”

Is it the kids who think themselves to be monsters because they aren’t allowed to accept and understand themselves within this world? Or is it a tyrannical world that constructs a certain idea of the ideal and punishes those who do not follow the rules? Is it perhaps the people who choose to look on in the face of brutality, viewing what they consider to be the rightful judgment for this danger that threatens their existence? We, as a society, must realize our complicit behavior in keeping the ideal in context, in keeping a certain ‘kind of love’ as only appropriate or worthy of respect, in punishing the ones who do not fit into the norm of heteronormativity, in building a culture of ‘othering’ the unknown or the not-familiar. As a society, we should be responsible for shielding and nurturing our children with genuine love and care. Every kid needs someone to understand them, to irresolutely stand by their sides, and to help them see themselves as someone deserving of love, respect, and freedom. Kids do not deserve to grow up thinking they are unworthy of happiness, believing that they are ‘different’ or ‘strange’ or ‘monsters’ simply because they choose to exist and identify themselves in non-heteronormative terms. Who are we to deprive someone of happiness?

As Kore-eda writes, “If only some people can have it, that’s not happiness. That’s just nonsense. Happiness is something anyone can have.”

Kore-eda seems to believe that it is upon us to give lieu to a certain way of thinking, meaning, or feeling. It is our responsibility as a society to decide what we signify and what words we choose to use. Kore-eda looks at us and calls us ‘weak’ and ‘sick’. If for us to exist as a society, we have to classify someone as a ‘monster’ to absolve ourselves of a collective guilty conscience, then we might as well not. The sooner you can call someone a monster, the faster you can dispose of their humanity, thereby absolving yourself of the crimes you committed against them. Stripping someone of their humanity is how we allow ourselves to demonize what we do not understand. We release ourselves from judgment as we do so. It shields us, it comforts us, and it assuages our guilt—the collective guilt of a community. Queer people, historically, have been branded with the tag “unnatural”, marginalized by the center, and have suffered many centuries of persecution—resulting in shame, suppression, and secrecy. Same-sex relationships have been historically, constructed as ‘deplorable’ or ‘necessary of contempt’ and hence, dehumanized in the eyes of the ones at the center. With this historical muzzling in mind, Kore-eda asks us the question, “What do you define as unnatural, and who are you to call it so?”

As the mystery spirals out of control, the story invites the audience to speculate the worst from every single character in the film. Kore-eda is particularly interested in the concept of family and how it shapes our identities and experiences. After all, our upbringing and our primary caregivers are behind the way we seek to express ourselves. They are the reasons we are guided to hold a certain way of thinking, sociability, and creativity. Kore-eda’s films often feature understated performances- really building into the line of thought of “movies being just real life with the dull bits cut off” (Alfred Hitchcock). Kore-eda more so than anything, chooses to emphasize the humane and the natural elements with minimalist cinematography, allowing the emotional weight of the story to take center stage. Kore-eda’s art shines with his characters, who feel just as real and just as forgiving and brutal and kind as humans are capable of being. He manages to speak to us with his art. It is like an intimate breath he allows us to take with him, as we give ourselves to the story, as we give ourselves to him, to learn and to feel just a little bit more.

If you or someone you know is seeking help with LGBTQ+ mental health or safety concerns, call The Trevor Project‘s 24/7 Lifeline at 866-4-U-TREVOR (866-488-7386). You can also reach out for instant message or text message support via TrevorChat and TrevorText, respectively. For additional resources for trans people, call the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860. In an emergency, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or call 911.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. You can also reach out to the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860, the Trevor Lifeline at 1-866-488-7386, or your local suicide crisis center.

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic abuse, call 911 or the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1(800) 799-SAFE (7233), or visit thehotline.org.

Manisha Kalita

Delhi North '24

Manisha Kalita is a writer at Her Campus, Delhi North and is responsible for ideating and writing articles for HCDN website and the social media page. She is currently a third year student at Indraprastha College for Women, majoring in English. She has been a postholder for the English Editorial Society of Indraprastha College for Women, helping curate the College Magazine 'Aaroh' and publishing in Society Annual Newsletter, Epiphany. She has also been a content writer for Outis, the English Literary Society. As an Individual, she is passionate about literature, art and film, and every now and then, they take the form of her creative expression.