2024 Milwaukee Film Festival: Day Six “Monster”

There’s perhaps no better director in the world at understanding of children and families than Hirokazu Kore-eda. Over the last decade plus he’s explored those concepts in films like I WISH, LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON, AFTER THE STORM, and SHOPLIFTERS. And that brings us to the latest, MONSTER, which brings some new wrinkles to the concept exploring how institutions and societal pressures get in the way of understanding children.


Misunderstandings are at the heart of MONSTER. Albeit you can definitely call out Kore-eda for deliberately obfuscating what is going on. Every main character is called a monster or calls themselves a monster at some point. Sometimes ironically. Sometimes out of a sense of punishment. But, Kore-eda cares enough about all of them to show how it’s wrong time and again.

MONSTER has a big, relatable hook at its core. A widowed mother is having a difficult time with her son. He’s behaving strangely, comes home at least once with an injury, and is unusually tight-lipped when questioned by his mother. The school is likewise tight-lipped, maddingly so, although things seem to be swirling around the 5th grade teacher Mr. Hori. Is he abusing the son? There’s little doubt how this would play out with a lesser director that would go in all the obvious directions and take the title far more literally.


But, Kore-eda loves his characters. Perhaps no more so than when they’re about what they want and deserve, and MONSTER goes all in on that confusion extending it to the audience. Kore-eda deliberately withholds information giving us fractions of the overall story from changing points of view. It’s not RASHOMON, but it’s a puzzle with various pieces missing. Until the time is right and Kore-eda decides to reveal the missing pieces. Kore-eda is no stranger to obfuscating, but he’s also no stranger to revealing hidden truths that don’t have fit neat moral lessons. There’s a lack of trust, institutional and otherwise, throughout the film, but when the secrets are revealed we understand.

And the final revelations and resolution are a knockout. It’s worth keeping the ending of the film close to the vest, but the ending is very emotional and also filmed with great feeling and style as well. It’s the work of a master storyteller that gets you to invest in the characters.

In the end, MONSTER is a pure knockout. Perhaps not all the pieces quite fit together neatly, but when you see the full picture you understand nearly everyone better. Especially the fact that there are no monsters here. Kore-eda is a great humanist filmmaker, and MONSTER continues that tradition is often unexpected ways. It’s one of the absolute highlights of the 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival.

MONSTER plays twice more at the 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival, once on April 19, 2024 at 6:45PM at the Times Cinema and once on April 22, 2024 at 2:00 PM at the Oriental Theatre.

The 2024 Milwaukee Film Festival runs from April 11, 2024 until April 25, 2024. Tickets can be purchased via MKEFILM.ORG.