Interview with Monster Director Hirokazu Kore-eda and screenwriter Yuji Sakamoto

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Monster Director, Hirokazu Kore-eda (left) and screen writer Yuji Sakamoto
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by Yurika Matsumori

Editor’s note: Yurika Matsumori is Hawaii Reporter’s newest film critic. A keen observier of Japanese Cinema and a native speaker, she interviewed both Messrs. Kore-eda and Sakamoto about their recent collaboration on Monster, a film just released in the US and screened at HIFF last month. The interview, conducted in Japanese, was translated by Yurika. We look forward to her future contributions. Her bio is posted at the bottom of the page.

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Matsumori: What inspired you to write this script?

Sakamoto: I discussed the script with the producer when I started writing it. I wanted to create a story where the narrative unfolds many times, and with each twist, what one originally saw would change. The methodological approach for creating such a story came first. I recalled a moment when I was driving and stopped behind a truck at a red light. When the light turned green, the truck didn’t move immediately. I honked the horn a few times, and only then did the truck start moving. Then, I saw someone in a wheelchair in the crosswalk after the truck had passed. I regretted honking the horn despite the fact that the truck was big, blocking my view of the wheelchair. It made me aware how unintentionally one can become a perpetrator without realizing it, and I wanted to turn that experience into a story. I wrote the story also mixing in my early childhood memories.

Matsumori: As a director who has written his own scripts for years, why did you collaborate with Mr. Sakamoto this time?

Kore-eda: My debut work was written by someone else, so it had been about 30 years. Whenever I was asked whom I would want to write a script if not myself, I would mention Mr. Sakamoto. When I heard my name was mentioned by Mr. Sakamoto as a candidate for the director during the development of this film, I wanted to do it before even confirming the details.

Matsumori: How did the collaboration and editing/modifications unfold during the film’s production?

Kore-eda: Initially, the setting was on the outskirts of Tokyo with a large river flowing through the city, but shooting in Tokyo is generally challenging due to difficulties obtaining permits. Then we found a location in Suwa, Nagano Prefecture, with a lake instead of a river,  Here the town would be cooperative, for example, when we shot the scenes of the fire engines in action.

Mr. Sakamoto joined me there, and we made adjustments by changing the setting to a lake. As casting became more specific, the script and dialogues evolved to suit each character. Observing Mr. Sakamoto’s scriptwriting process was a valuable experience for me.

Matsumori: The principal in the film deviates from the typical image associated with principals, which is articulate and decisive. Why did you choose to portray the principal this way?

Sakamoto: I had previously created a drama about bullying at school about 15 or 16 years ago. I interviewed individuals who experienced bullying, and what I found was that in many Japanese organizations, revealing problems often leads to the dismantling or closure of the organization rather than addressing and correcting them. Leaders tend to hide issues to avoid negative consequences, and portraying a principal with a similar mindset felt appropriate.

Matsumori: There is a scene where the two children play a guessing game, “Who is the Monster?”  What does the monster represent?

Monster Director, Hirokazu Kore-eda

Sakamoto: I think that everyone carries a metaphorical monster within themselves, whether or not it truly exists. It’s an intangible entity, sometimes visible, sometimes not, affecting human relationships. I think of it as an unseen barrier in interpersonal relationships.

Kore-eda: I think that the audience, who has been searching for monsters within the film, realizes upon reaching the third (“children’s”) chapter that the act of seeking monsters was, in fact, their own monstrous behavior.When I first read the plot, I thought, “I am the monster,” especially when I advanced to the children’s chapter. I made the film thinking that it is very important that the audience is made to realize this by the children.

Matsumori: What themes or messages would you like the audience to take away from the film?

Kore-eda: It’s up to the audience to interpret and decide that, not only in this movie but in general. I think this film gives people various emotions, takeaways, and interpretations.

Matsumori: How does this film connect to the global audience, and what common elements do you believe resonate universally?

Kore-eda: I don’t specifically create with a universal audience in mind. Rather, I make the film as if I’m talking to someone specific and I think that it somehow ends up resonating universally. I think Mr. Sakamoto would agree. If something in this film resonates with people globally, I think it’s the sense of disconnection between people or between people and organizations depicted in the film that may echo with those who perceive similar individual experiences occurring globally.

Matsumori: Viewers may perceive differently based on their experiences and circumstances. It’s a subjective experience for each person. Mr. Sakamoto, what do you think?

Sakamoto: As the director said, whether it’s someone in my life or even just an imagined person, I create something with the intent to benefit that one person, trusting that it will reach many people. Aside from that, I don’t think there are many other methods of creation. I believe in creating something for one person, first and foremost, and trusting that it will reach that person. I don’t really consider much else. While creating this work, I thought about a past friend or imagined someone who would love this piece, always keeping them in mind as I wrote.

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Yurika Matsumori

Yurika Matsumori is a medical speech-language pathologist specializing in cognitive linguistic communication and dysphagia challenges. A native speaker of Japanese who spent formative years in Osaka, Japan, she earned a B.A. in Linguistics from Duke University and an M.S. in Speech-Language Pathology from Columbia University, enriched by study abroad experiences in Germany and Spain.

Yurika’s interest in language and communication extends beyond the clinical setting and into the captivating world of cinema, where she plays a role as a movie reviewer and entertainment writer. She is excited to share stories compelled by her fascination with the narratives unfolding on the silver screen.

Yurika’s commitment to facilitating communication also led to her previous involvement with Toastmasters International for many years. As a member, she undertook various leadership roles and received advanced communication and leadership awards. A mother of four, Yurika enjoys engaging in a wide variety of activities such as being immersed in nature through hiking and kayaking, maintaining physical health and well-being at the gym, expressing herself through singing, or engaging in a challenging game of Scrabble.

She looks forward to sharing her perspective and observations on cinema with Hawaii Reporter readers.

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