Review: Kubo and the Two Strings


Story Makers Made By Stories

presented by j:

“If you must blink, do it now.” These are the opening words and good advice that begins the visual feast that is Kubo and the Two Strings. It is a difficult film to summarize with any kind of succinct synopsis, but at its heart, Kubo is about the connection between family, between good and evil, between man and nature, and how stories connect us to each other.

The origami-inspired animation is beautiful, vibrant, and perfect for this kind of story. The writing is solid and bold, even if the pacing plods at moments. While there are a couple of predictable plot points, on the whole, it’s nothing we’ve seen in an animated film before. Notable among the voice performances are Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey’s roles as Monkey and Beetle respectively. The musical score by Dario Marianelli (Oscar-winner for Atonement) is lovely – as it should be for a story about a boy with a magical musical instrument.

I can’t say I really recommend Kubo for kids despite the fact that it is marketed and produced with families in mind. The themes are complex, the morals complicated, and while the resolution is redemptive, its execution is shaky at best. And for a movie that is so unapologetically Japanese in its art and storytelling, there is a shocking dearth of Japanese artists at the top of the bill. Not a single one of the screenwriters are Japanese, and the inclusion of actors George Takei and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa smacks a teensy bit of tokenism when all the larger parts belong to white actors.

But to play devil’s advocate, we complain about Hollywood’s lack of new ideas and pursuit of diversity, and perhaps the filmmakers – including Oscar-nominated director Travis Knight – should be applauded for their attempts here to show the beauty and wonder in a culture so different from what our American sensibilities expect.

Kubo himself is an artist, a storyteller who finds his personal story changed when vengeful spirits compel him on a journey to find three magical pieces of armor. It should come as no surprise that this is my favorite aspect of the film. Kubo begs the question: do we make stories or do stories make us? Or is it all of the above? We are all born into stories that we don’t control – the product of whoever came before us and the decisions they made. And yet, we all have a role in continuing the story through the connections we make with others along our journey, and how stories have the power to change us.

For those who decide to take their older kids, be prepared for themes of loss, familial strife, vengeance, and more loss for good measure. Likewise, for those from a Judeo-Christian background, be prepared for aspects of Shintoism like ancestor worship and animism. While Kubo is less Shinto-y (is that a word?) than Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, the spirit world still plays a prominent role here. For a film where spirits play such a role, I wish the film itself had a little more heart spirit, but it is still, overall, a triumph in animation.

P.S. The credits are really cool.

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