Hirokazu Koreeda’s Monster (2023): Hirokazu Koreeda is known for his evocative character-driven dramas that convey his deep understanding of family dynamics. His 2018 film – Shoplifters won the prestigious Palme d’Or award. Now, he returns to the In Competition section at Cannes with his new title – Monster (Kaibutsu). Last year, his Korean-language film Broker was also a part of the competition. It earned Song Kang-ho his Best Actor award.

This is Hirokazu Koreeda’s first project after his 1995 film Maborosi, where he opted to work on a script that he did not write. He speaks about his collaboration with screenwriter Yuji Sakamoto. “Although I’m a bit older than him (Sakamoto), we’re of the same generation and deal with similar topics,” said the director during his interview for Deadline.

What is Hirokazu Koreeda’s ‘Monster’ about?

Monster revolves around a single mother who confronts her son’s teacher after noticing changes in her son’s behavior. While she initially believes her son is getting bullied, she soon realizes that the case is more complicated and sees the situation in a new light. Later, the film challenges our conceptions about a victim and an aggressor while telling the story from different viewpoints.

What made Koreeda want to work on Monster?

While speaking about the script of Monster, Koreeda says, “It felt like a microcosm of what is happening around the whole world in terms of intolerance and the divisions between people, issues that only became worse during the pandemic. I also find it interesting that as viewers, we bring our-preconceived notions into the film, but as it unfolds, these start to fall away.”

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How was Koreeda’s experience of working with Shoplifters actress – Sakura Ando?

For Monster, Koreeda reunites with the Shoplifters cast member, Sakura Ando. The actress, once again, plays the role of a mother but works with a much broader emotional canvas than the 2018 drama.

While speaking about casting Ando, Koreeda says that he immediately thought of her for the mother’s role. He believes she is ‘a bottomless actress’ and sees more potential in her as an actress than what Shoplifters allowed her to explore.

Koreeda further adds, “When I first offered her (Ando) the project, she said this role would be more focused on supporting the children. Without her, I don’t think we would be able to get so much out of their performances.” So, besides playing her part, Ando became almost like a surrogate mother to the two teenage actors – Soya Kurokawa and Hinata Hiiragi. She helped bring out the nuanced performances of the two young actors.

How was Koreeda’s experience working with the young actors?

Hirokazu Koreeda Returns to Cannes with ‘Monster
Still from the upcoming film Monster (2023)

Soya Kurokawa and Hinata Hiiragi, who both are known for their acting roles on television, were selected through auditions. Koreeda notes how he did not need to get every line repeated by these actors since they were used to memorizing owing to their prior experience. He also points out peculiarities in their acting styles.

“Soya [Kurokawa] has very delicate mannerisms in acting – you can see his internal struggles as he works on bringing up the emotions required for each scene, which made him ideally suited for this character. Hinata [Hiiragi] was quite different, as he’s played the protagonist in many dramas so that he can detach himself, and you can see he’s very cleverly playing a role.”

How was Koreeda’s experience working with Oscar-winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto?

Ryuichi Sakamoto was a widely influential Japanese composer who had a wonderful career spanning decades. His work for Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor won him an Oscar for Best Original Score, and his recent work for Leonardo Dicaprio starrer survival drama The Revenant brought him back to the spotlight.

Koreeda always wanted to work with the maestro. However, since Sakamoto was suffering from the last stages of his cancer, he hesitated to approach the composer for his new project. He soon decided to send some pre-edited footage of Broker to Sakamoto, hoping for an answer.

Sakamoto responded to Koreeda within a week. While he wouldn’t have been able to write the whole soundtrack due to his physical condition, he proposed to send some ideas that the director can use but need not feel obligated to. Besides scoring two key scenes, he also allowed Koreeda to use any tracks from his solo albums 12.

“I didn’t want to pressure him further or enter into deeper discussion, but this became such a precious experience and something I’m hugely proud of,” says the Palme d’Or-winning filmmaker.

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