Monster Director Kore-eda on the Significance of Telling LGBTQ Stories in Japan

Chủ nhật - 19/05/2024 22:12
"Compared to the U.S. and Europe, the awareness about these issues is very much delayed in Japan," director Hirokazu Koreeda tells us.
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Some SPOILERS follow for Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Monster.

For years, Hirokazu Kore-eda directed films he wrote himself. In the Japanese auteur’s last few projects—Broker, The Truth, and, Shoplifters, his drama that won the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Festival in 2018—he’s credited as both writer and director. In fact, the last time Kore-eda directed a film he did not write was nearly three decades ago, for his debut feature Maborosi in 1995. But that changed when he was approached with a script from one of his favorite writers, Yuji Sakamoto. That’s the name Kore-eda would always give when asked who he’d like to collaborate with, so it didn’t take much convincing for the director to say yes to directing Monster. And he wasn’t the only one who found Sakamoto’s writing compelling: the movie premiered at Cannes earlier this year and won Best Screenplay.

Monster, which released in U.S. theaters in November, is told in three perspectives. It begins through the eyes of single mother Saori Mugino (Sakura Andō), who becomes increasingly troubled when her son Minato (Sōya Kurokawa) starts to act differently. When she learns that his behavior is connected to elementary school teacher Mr. Hori (Eita Nagayama), Saori immediately confronts the institution. The second and third parts of Monster follow Mr. Hori and Minato, respectively, and each part brazenly subverts expectations. When it becomes evident that Minato’s relationship with classmate Yori Hoshikawa (Hinata Hiiragi) holds the answers the adults are desperately chasing, viewers must face the unsettling implications of our assumptions.

‘We Are the Monster’

Kore-eda shared his own reaction to reading the three-part script for the first time. “We’re trying to figure out who the monster is. Is it the mother? Is it the teacher? Is it the children?” the director told Fandom over Zoom via a translator. “By the end, when we realize that we’ve been searching for the monster, it gets thrown back to us that we are the monster because we’ve acted this way.” If audiences can recognize this irony and ask ourselves who the real monster is, Kore-eda said he would consider the film a success.


Through Saori’s perspective in the first part of the film, we’re led to think that Minato is withdrawing into himself at home because Mr. Hori is violent toward him. But the more time we spend at the elementary school, the less convincing this view becomes. It doesn’t help that Minato’s principal Makiko Fushimi (Yūko Tanaka) is entirely detached from both the students and the teachers, and outright says the truth does not matter. In the third act, we begin to have an inkling of what actually happened. Minato has befriended Yori, who is violently abused at home by his father (Shidō Nakamura) and severely bullied at school by his classmates. The two boys build a safe haven far away from both places, and Minato starts to question himself when he develops feelings for Yori.

Significance of telling LGBTQ stories

At Cannes Film Festival in May, Kore-eda addressed the LGBTQ themes in the film given Minato and Yori’s relationship. “When I discovered the screenplay, I thought to myself, this story should not be viewed from that angle,” Deadline reported. He expanded on the comments in our interview. “I want to clarify one thing. I did say in the press conference that this film is not only about LGBTQ—but we did win the Queer [Palm] award and so it does have that LGBTQ aspect,” Kore-eda said. “My point was that it’s not only about that, we’re also discussing various other issues in the film.”

LGBTQ representation in media has gradually increased in Japan, where, like most other countries in Asia, same-sex marriage is not legalized. “In Japan, more recently, there are various stories dealing with sexual identity types of issues and with various minority type issues,” Kore-eda said. “I think the opportunity to make those films has increased since 10 years ago. It’s very good to deal with these subject matters in the entertainment world.”


The director continued, “But compared to the U.S. and Europe, the awareness about these issues is very much delayed in Japan.” In the film, Yori is implied to be abused by his father because of his sexual identity. The boy is told that he is sick and that his brain has been replaced by that of a pig. “There are still people [in Japan] who consider, like Yori’s father does, that being LGBTQ and other is like a disease,” Kore-eda said. “And there are even politicians that make those kinds of statements.”

He talked about the responsibility he felt while making the film. “As somebody who is not LGBTQ, when we’re treating that subject matter, we have to be very careful not to become one of the perpetrators or one of the people who are making it worse for that community,” Kore-eda said. “And it’s not they that have to be reborn, but we that have to be reborn.”

More than one form of violence

Kore-eda also pointed out that Yori’s father is not the only one causing harm in Monster—even if he’s the most obvious perpetrator.The most extreme form of violence that we see is Yori’s father, what he says and what he does,” Kore-eda said. “But there are other types of violence in the film [that are] much more subtle.”

He gave three examples: “What the mother calls ‘normal’—just wanting people to be ‘normal’ or a ‘normal family’—might be taken as a violent act,” Kore-eda explained. Other instances include the teacher sharing a fixed idea of what is masculine, and the principal saying the truth does not matter—the school simply has to apologize to move on. “Those types of things are not necessarily physically violent, but they really echo a kind of violence in society,” Kore-eda said.

It’s another way the film prompts the audience to question whether we are the monsters. “What we as viewers see, we might not do the kinds of behavior that Yori’s father does—we see that as just abhorrent,” Kore-eda said. “But the three other types of subtle violence, we may engage in during our lifetime.”

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