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Monster review: Hirokazu Kore-eda’s subtle, smart and beautiful work is up there with Shoplifters

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Remember Shoplifters? What a wonderfully warm-but-sad, clever movie Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Palme D’Or-winning, Oscar nominated 2018 film was.

His last, Broker from 2022, was equally superb, but somehow felt overlooked on this side of the globe: the western world apparently only having capacity for a finite number of Asian films per year – ie one or two – to receive wider attention.

A sad state of affairs, perhaps, but if this continues to be the case then Monster ought to be in this year’s one or two. Because this is a film that deals with lots of very modern themes – not least social media gossiping and degrees of homophobia – in a far more subtle, smart and real way than many American or English movies do.

The setup is absolutely, bizarrely, creepily superb. A single mother Saori (Sakura Ando) and her son Minato (Soya Kurokawa) watch as a high rise building across the street burns to the ground.

We soon learn that it contained a kind of brothel and that one of the regular frequenters of said brothel was Mr Hori (Eita Nagayami): a school teacher who, it quickly transpires, has been picking on Minato by telling him that he has the brain of a pig (not a metaphor. He’s talking about transplant).

Saori is furious and storms into the school head’s office, demanding an explanation. She is told Minato was bullying another child, Eri (Hinata Hiiragi). Through twisting and turning flashbacks of various classroom events, we slowly learn what actually happened and that there is more to the two boys’ relationship than anyone first thought.

Kore-eda has been making films for three decades now, most of which are quietly angry with society and delve deep into family dynamics. I was surprised to learn that Monster is the first film he has directed that he has not also written himself since 1995’s Maborosi, because it feels like a very personal piece of work.

But whatever: the child characters here feel more intricately, three dimensionally realised than those of many more zeitgeist-ey, younger filmmakers (Kore-eda is 61 and a late-in-life father).

Yes, in the end, there are perhaps one or two too many of these flashback twists, to the extent that by the end it does start to feel a bit Scooby Doo. But Monsters is beautifully shot and superbly acted – the kids, in particular, are brilliant – and deserves to garner as much international recognition as its much-lauded predecessor.In cinemas

127 mins, cert 12A