© Plaion/Wild Bunch / Central Film Verleih GmbH

Die Unschuld (Monster, Kaibutsu)
Japan 2023

Opening 21 Mar 2024

Directed by: Kore-Eda Hirokazu
Writing credits: Yûji Sakamoto
Principal actors: Sakura Andô, Eita Nagayama, Soya Kurokawa, Hinata Hiiragi, Mitsuki Takahata

Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s (Like Father, Like Son, 2013, Shoplifters, 2018) convoluted morality tale is told from a handful of different perspectives, saving the most uncomfortable for last. Initially, innocuously, on the surface Monster looks like a case of juvenile jealousies spinning out of control. However, as Yûji Sakamoto’s screenplay unwinds, there is a shift, and as in real life most everyone has something they are ashamed of disclosing.

What is a mother to do when her only child inexplicably changes overnight? Saori’s (Sakura Ando) reaction is typical of a widow raising a twelve-year-old boy alone. As Minato’s (Soya Kurokawa) actions become more extreme she grills him. Then proceeds directly to the source to flush out the culprit, and for retribution. The school’s principal, Makiko Fushimi (Yūko Tanaka), very politely listens with vice-principal Humiaki Shoda (Akihiro Kakuta) in attendance; likewise, they propound disbelief in Saori’s accusations. Saori pushes back, a calculated apology is proffered, plus worrying news. Shifting perspectives considers Minato and schoolmate Yori Hoshikawa (Hinata Hiiragi), a latch-key kid whose vulnerabilities—asocial, effeminate—draw tormentors like flies to honey. By extension encompassing Yori’s single, strained, and angry father Kiyotaka (Shidō Nakamura), their teacher Michitoshi Hiro (Eita Nagayama), and girlfriend (Mitsuki Takahata).

This is Kore-eda’s first film since 1995’s Maborosi he did not write; Sakamoto’s multi-theme screenplay is shrewd yet obtuse, reflective yet accusatory, current, and indicative of societal trending toward lack of reasoning, common sense. Scenes hint at instability: lighters and boys, brass instruments, Saori shouting “good luck” at a burning building. Substories disclose the flimsiness of people’s secrets, the frailty of honesty. Alternating perspectives going clock- and counterclockwise, is disconcerting initially, before running out of control. The cast shine, particularly the poise and chemistry between Kurokawa and Hiiragi. Ryûto Kondô’s cinematography meets numerous challenges, as does Hirokazu Kore-eda’s editing, and Ryuichi Sakamoto’s fluctuating, well-suited score. Die Unschuld, more macabre than innocent in its own way, leaves one with a peculiar sense of uneasiness. (Marinell Haegelin)

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