Director Hirokazu Kore-eda talks about his film Monster, a profound narrative puzzle

One of the greatest directors working today sits down for a chat about his critically acclaimed latest film.

Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Monster is an intricate exploration of human complexity and societal expectations. Returning to Japan after making his previous film in South Korea, Kore-eda creates a narrative puzzle, employing a Rashomon-esque structure to challenge our perceptions. The film delves into the societal pressures shaping children, masterfully portraying characters with hidden vulnerabilities. On the surface, the movie is about a mother’s quest to find out what happened to her son at school as he begins to behave strangely. Saori’s quest for her son’s truth unravels themes of bullying, self-discovery and the struggle to belong. 

While the non-linear narrative demands engagement, it rewards audiences with profound insights into characters and motivations. Ryuichi Sakamoto’s haunting score adds to the film’s emotional depth, as Monster compels us to reconsider the nature of monsters, revealing that truth is sometimes relative, nuanced and multi-dimensional.

In this cinematic realm, where stories unfold like chapters of life, Hirokazu Kore-eda stands as a master storyteller, sculpting narratives that resonate with the pulse of humanity. Monster doesn’t merely unfold on the screen; it breathes with the authenticity that has become Kore-eda’s signature.

Like a finely crafted piece of art, this film peels back the layers of truth, revealing a perpetual dance between victim and perpetrator. In the backdrop of a pandemic, it mirrors the discourse and misunderstandings that marked our shared reality during tumultuous times that continue to shape tense, combative discourse. 

Kore-eda’s partnership with screenwriter Yuji Sakamoto adds another layer to this cinematic experience. Sakamoto’s vigorous narrative, distinct and profound, blends seamlessly with Kore-eda’s directorial finesse. Together, they navigate not just individual truths but the essence of truth itself.

My short conversation with Kore-eda becomes a portal into his creative realm. The interview was born from the unique chaotic space of TIFF press junkets; Hirokazu Kore-eda could still unravel the threads of his movie-making pathos, from working with a young cast to the profound influence of childhood on his storytelling. 

It’s a glimpse into the mind of a filmmaker who, through Monster, invites us to ponder the multifaceted nature of truth in the most human and relatable way.

Monster directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda

Chico Peres Smith: What was it like working with such a young cast?

Hirokazu Kore-eda: Up to now, when I’ve worked with children, I never gave them the script. And so I just on the spot would give them those particular lines that we’re about to shoot, and essentially that would allow them to be their person and use their vocabulary. In this movie, for the first time, we gave the two children scripts, and they practised and memorized their lines, so it was much more like working with adults. 

CPS: Many of your films deal with childhood sensitively, intimately. What about childhood inspires you so much in creating such rich storytelling?

Hirokazu Kore-eda: In this movie, the two children have a certain personality. For example, in this poster, they’re looking back, and what they’re looking at is the faces of the adults in a judging way. They’re looking back at the faces of the adults and evaluating them. The eye of the child in my mind is about that, that they’re just looking and saying, what are you? Who are you? And so that is definitely how I approach the idea.

CPS: Do you think that cinema has the power to educate and change the audience’s values?

Hirokazu Kore-eda: Yes, of course.

CPS: What was it like to work with Yuji Sakamoto?

Hirokazu Kore-eda: I respect Sakamoto Yuji more than any other screenwriter. I’ve always had great respect for him. He writes in a way that I would not have written. Working with him was a great learning opportunity because I wanted to see how he’d build the story. I learned a lot from (working with him). 

CPS: Why do you think the pandemic became a moment for division rather than solidarity? 

Hirokazu Kore-eda: Because the pandemic is more or less over, I can come here to a film festival and speak directly to you. And I feel that now, I am able to reach out and connect with people once more. And so, to me, that is basic. During the pandemic, that was impossible and we didn’t connect directly. That led to more misunderstandings, like the misunderstandings in this film that create problems. And so that increased over the time of the pandemic, and in many ways, it still has not been resolved.

CPS: The film deals with the question of truth, a challenging topic. How did you approach this theme within the film?

Hirokazu Kore-eda: With this film and as I was directing the film, my thought was more about the appearance of the victim and perpetrator. For example, with the two boys, at one point one is the perpetrator and one is the victim, and with the mother, she becomes the perpetrator, she’s the victim, but then she becomes the perpetrator towards the school, which is then the victim. And so it was constantly this sort of victim, perpetrator shifting all the time. For me, it was important to direct it in a way that allowed that kind of shifting victim-perpetrator relationship to come up. ■

Monster (directed by Hirokazu Kore-eda)

Read our review of Monster from TIFF. 

Monster opens in Montreal theatres on Friday, Dec 8.

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