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In Monster (2023), also known as Kaibutsu, Mr. Hori is the teacher of Minato and Yori, two fifth grade students who

secretly like each other.

However, their relationship is complicated by the fact that, outwardly, it appears that Minato is a bully who picks on Yori.

In one scene, in the part from Mr. Hori's perspective, he reads Yori’s homework and notices something unusual. He circles some characters on the paper and deduces that Yori and Minato like each other.

I don't understand how exactly Mr. Hori figured it out. I think it has something to do with the way the Japanese words or characters are written, but I don’t know Japanese.

screenshot of Yori's homework with some of the Japanese words or characters circled by Hori

In a later scene, we see the story from Minato’s perspective. He is watching Yori write his homework, the same one that Mr. Hori will read later. He asks Yori, “Do you think Mr. Hori will notice?” Yori replies, “I don’t think he will.” This implies that Yori has hidden a clue about their relationship in his homework in a way that Mr. Hori will not notice. But what was the clue? And how did Mr. Hori spot it anyway?

How did Mr. Hori figure out that Minato and Yori have feelings for each other?

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The first character in each column is written backwards.

That's why Mr. Hori circles them, and writes the character correctly. He is correcting their homework, after all. And at this age, writing a character physically "backwards" is a bit unexpected.

Additionally, since Japanese is traditionally written top-to-bottom, right-to-left, this is roughly equivalent (in English) to writing the first letter of each line backwards. It not only spells out a sentence when read vertically (in the case of the film, horizontally) but draws additional attention if the letters themselves are written physically backwards.

Compare the two characters Mr. Hori has written with the two characters circled. For additional context, here is the normal (non-reversed) way of writing the visible characters in the top row (note that only the first three, part of the coded message, are actually reversed):

Japanese character Romanization
to
na (circled)
mi (circled)
no
gi

The coded message was precisely what Mr. Hori read out loud as he looked at the paper: "Minato and Yori." Keep in mind that, per the flashback, this is Yori's homework he's looking at. So it becomes immediately apparent that they're in love, since otherwise, why would this kid put his (alleged) bully's name in a coded message?

One other small point to help bring this conclusion around: Because the characters used in the coded message were written incorrectly, the ideal result of their "prank," had Mr. Hori not noticed, would have been Mr. Hori writing the message "Minato and Yori" across the top of Yori's homework as he corrected each character in turn. This has the result of "we made him write a silly message because he wasn't paying enough attention to notice," a common school-age prank.

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  • Thanks for this answer! This clears things up. I’m curious about the coded message that Yori wrote. If I'm not mistaken, Yori wrote “Minato” as part of it; what else did he write that tipped off Mr. Hori about Yori and Minato’s feelings for each other? Commented Feb 3 at 8:27
  • I got the impression that the "message" was just Minato's name being cutesily highlighted, sort of like putting your crush's name/initials in a heart in the margin of a notebook, but maybe this could be emphasized in the answer itself. Commented Feb 5 at 6:44
  • The coded message was precisely what Mr. Hori read out loud as he looks at the paper: "Minato and Yori." Keep in mind that, per the flashback, this is Yori's homework he's looking at. So it becomes immediately apparent that they're in love, since otherwise why would this kid put his (alleged) bully's name in a coded message?
    – 3d12
    Commented Feb 5 at 14:59
  • One other small point to help bring this conclusion around: Because the characters used in the coded message were written incorrectly, the ideal result of their "prank," had Mr. Hori not noticed, would have been Mr. Hori writing the message "Minato and Yori" across the top of Yori's homework as he corrected each character in turn. This has the result of "we made him write a silly message because he wasn't paying enough attention to notice," a common school-age prank.
    – 3d12
    Commented Feb 5 at 17:35
  • @3d12 I see. Thanks for the clarification. I've taken the liberty to incorporate your comments into your answer. Commented Feb 6 at 7:26

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