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  • Jeff Beck

Monster (2023): A Gripping Mystery with a Fascinating Structure (Blu-ray)


The Film:


This last year saw a number of international films receive not only critical acclaim, but also the vast majority of attention and placement at all the big award ceremonies. Everywhere you looked, it seemed like it was always "Anatomy of a Fall" and "The Zone of Interest," as well as other top contenders like "Society of the Snow," "Perfect Days," and even "Godzilla Minus One." One contender that sadly seemed to get lost in the mix was Hirokazu Kore-eda's "Monster," a stunning work from a director who's no stranger when it comes to receiving international acclaim, including a multitude of nominations at the Cannes Film Festival where his film "Shoplifters" won the prestigious Palme d'Or just a few years ago. With the film making its grand debut on Blu-ray recently, it's the perfect time to go back and explore why this little gem deserved more recognition than it got during its limited theatrical release & awards run.


"Monster" begins by introducing us to single mother Saori Mugino (Sakura Andō), who is raising her son Minato (Sōya Kurokawa), a fifth grader. She begins to notice strange behavior from him, including giving himself a haircut and finding him wandering around in a train tunnel one night, eventually leading her to suspect that he is being mistreated by his teacher, Mr. Hori (Eita Nagayama). After a bizarre interaction with the faculty, and a half-hearted apology from Mr. Hori, he tells her privately that Minato has actually been bullying another student, Yori (Hinata Hiiragi), though a visit with him doesn't reveal anything odd going on. It certainly does appear to be a perplexing mystery, but as the film begins to switch perspectives, more pieces of the puzzle are revealed, giving us a better view of what's really going on in the intertwining lives of these characters.


On the outset, "Monster" presents the audience with a rather intriguing mystery, presented entirely from Saori's viewpoint. This forces us to attempt to put together the solution with the few pieces we're given, much like she tries to do, though it soon becomes clear that, like her, we don't have all of the information to get down to the bottom of what's really happening. This is where the true ingenuity of the film kicks in, for it's not until the film begins to explore the story from different angles (i.e the perspectives of Mr. Hori and Minato) that the full picture truly begins to take shape.


It must be mentioned that the entire cast is exceptional, but the true stars of the film are Yuji Sakamoto's intricately-written screenplay and Kore-eda's remarkable direction. The screenplay is written in such a specific way so as to slowly reveal the truth bit by bit, presenting multiple scenes from different sides and in different pieces, so that when we see them played out, we end up seeing that our initial assumptions may have been wrong.


Kore-eda brings all of this together to tell a strangely hypnotic tale that keeps the audience riveted as we get closer and closer to the truth of the matter. It's the kind of story that just goes to show that sometimes things are not how they may appear to be on the surface, and that going off of merely one viewpoint's worth of information may have you jumping to the wrong conclusion, an idea that is executed with great depth and precision by these skilled filmmakers.


While "Monster" may not have gotten the attention it deserved over the last year, hopefully that will change as the film makes its debut on Blu-ray & digital, as it truly is one of the most fascinating films to come out of 2023, and even more so for those intrigued by captivating story structure (it's hardly a wonder that it won Best Screenplay at Cannes last year). Whether you're in the mood for an engaging mystery, or just want a gripping tale that slowly draws you in with its peculiarity, "Monster" is an wonderful treat that is well-worth seeking out.


Video/Audio:


"Monster" comes to Blu-ray in a 2.39:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of excellent quality. The film has a number of dark scenes throughout its two-hour duration, but the picture always remains perfectly clear & sharp. Likewise, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack is fantastic, giving you all of the dialogue & music in outstanding quality. Overall, Well Go USA has done a marvelous job in both departments for the film's physical home release.


Special Features:


None.


Conclusion:


Hirokazu Kore-eda's "Monster" is a fascinating mystery that utilizes a marvelous & intricately-written screenplay by Yuji Sakamoto. Using an intriguing & engaging story structure to pull the audience into its odd little hypnotic tale, it deliberately reveals the truth slowly piece by piece as it shifts among its various perspectives, ultimately making the film one of the wonderful hidden gems of last year.


Score: 4/5


Now available on Blu-ray.


Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic.



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