Understanding Motherhood in 'Monster': A Movie That Leaves a Lasting Impression

'Kaibutsu' is a Japanese drama directed by respected filmmaker Hirokazu Korida and is one of the best foreign films of the last year

by Sededin Dedovic
Understanding Motherhood in 'Monster': A Movie That Leaves a Lasting Impression
© Madman Films / Youtube channel

"Monster," or in the original "Kaibutsu," is a Japanese drama directed by the respected filmmaker Hirokazu Koreeda from the screenplay by Yuji Sakamoto. The story follows single mother Saori (Ando Sekura) as she confronts her son's teacher at his school after noticing disturbing changes in her son's behavior.

The director brings his humanistic lens to the fundamental and enchanting mystery in this story revolving around a growing scandal at the school, revealing three different perspectives on these events and gradually unveiling the underlying story of emotional power and moral certainty.

From the outset, the film appears rich as questions of truth and trust are subtly revealed amidst character-focused drama, but the plot only grows more complex as the story unfolds. Saori is a widowed single mother raising her son Minato as best she can.

Things seem as good as they can be, with the boy still mourning a father he never knew. She hopes to live up to the standard the man left behind, cares for her mother as best she can, and wonders if his father has been reincarnated.

Monster© Madman Films / Youtube channel

The plot thickens when Saori notices Minato's behavior beginning to change in strange but initially subtle ways. The boy inquires about hypothetical scientific experiments involving the transplantation of pig brains into humans, his water bottle is filled with dirt and some strange, hard, unidentified object that Minato simply says was part of a science experiment.

At one point, Saori runs errands, returns home, and finds her son still leaning forward in his chair, reaching for an eraser he dropped just before she walked out the door. To make matters worse, Minato returns home from school with random injuries, mostly bruises and cuts, and the boy won't say anything about how he got them.

Once curious, talkative, and energetic, the child becomes very quiet. Something must be happening at school, and eventually a name surfaces: Hori, Minato's homeroom teacher. There's talk around town about this man being seen with a woman from the local hostess bar, and it's deemed inappropriate for a teacher to engage in such activities.

Furthermore, there's something odd and somewhat eerie about his demeanor, a wide but empty smile and a loner status.

Monster© Madman Films / Youtube channel

The screenplay is divided into three parts, with the first taking the mother's standpoint, the second delving into the accused teacher's solitary life, and the third offering a perspective we won't reveal to avoid spoiling this truly good film.

This is a mystery that moves through time, showing us events as one character sees them, only to fill in the missing gaps as experienced or witnessed by one of these other characters. In addition to directing the film, Koreeda is credited as the editor, skillfully using sound, visuals, props, and even clothing to keep us fully aware of where we are in the timeline of the narrative.

He takes the opportunity to, by providing some surprises, allow us to discover a kind of cause-and-effect progression that we may not have considered. This is a significant and entirely impressive feat, considering the attention to detail required of a filmmaker in planning, setting up, and editing the entire project.

It's no wonder Koreeda, who clearly understands the rhythm of this story and its emotional core, entrusted himself with the final editing of the film.

Monster© Madman Films / Youtube channel

So much of the impact, after all, lies in what is revealed and when, what is hidden and why, and how the actions and secrets of the characters speak equal amounts about who they are, what truly matters to them, and how much they struggle to be honest about it.

For Saori, she is first and foremost Minato's mother, and her main driver is to ensure her son is protected from harm. We understand this fully as the actress's subdued performance is filled with such quiet fierceness when her complaints about the teacher are mostly ignored by the school principal.

That, however, is only the first part of this story. The second follows Hori in his determination to be a good teacher, as well as his sad and lonely life at home. Both are countered by an accusation of abuse which he privately, adamantly denies but must suggest to his mother as a misunderstanding.

From his perspective, Minato is not innocent, especially when it comes to his actions towards Jori, a boy shorter than his classmates whom peers mock as an "alien". "Monster" is a Japanese film that possesses a fine sense of dramatic mystery and a significant degree of empathy for its characters, with whom you will surely connect. If you enjoy foreign films, then this one will leave a strong impact on you.