Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s Monster has a Rashomonesque plot that offers multiple perspectives on a single event. Winding and seductive are the ways of Yuji Sakamoto’s screenplay, which explores the mystery surrounding a school bullying case without ever overshadowing the film’s deeply affecting core.

Kore-eda’s return to form after the disappointing The Truth (2019) and Broker (2022) begins with a fire that has broken out in an apartment complex. The conflagration will singe single mother Saori (Sakura Ando) and her preteen son Minato (Soya Kurokawa) in unforeseen ways.

Minato has begun behaving strangely. He is accused of bullying his sweet-faced classmate Yori (Hinata Hiiragi). Or is Minato himself the target of abuse by enigmatic school teacher Michitoshi (Eita Nagayama)?

A meeting with the school administration, where Saori butts heads with the formidable vice-principal (Akihiro Tsunoda), is the first indication that all isn’t what it seems. Each of the characters has separate lives that gradually braided together with finesse.

The courtroom drama-like structure, with competing arguments and differing points of view, gives the actors equal play. The smoothly edited film leaves no room for confusion, while retaining suspense over what has exactly transpired at Minato’s school.

The magnificent performances by the child actors overshadow the efforts of the adults. The two young boys anchor a narrative that builds up to a moving finale, in which Kore-eda jettisons ambiguity to daringly reveal a shattering truth. The reality of what has actually happened to Minato and Yori has been evident all along, visible only to those with open minds and hearts.

Monster (2023).