* Spoiler Alert
Technically, in the movie Kubo and the Two Strings, the protagonist is playing a three-stringed shamisen (a lute). This instrument was originally a Chinese creation and it was introduced in Japan in the 16th Century. There is a tonal quality which always gives me shivers upon hearing, and when this movie’s early trailers came out, just waiting for the final product had me in anticipation for a very long time. To get me into the mood, I was oddly humming along to AC/DC‘s “Hells Bells.”
This film does not disappoint! The story flows evenly to detail Kubo’s (voiced by Art Parkinson) epic journey of self discovery. He does not realize that he’s a product of divine intervention and this tale is very traditional not only in the cultural sense but also ala Joseph Campbell‘s Monomyth tradition. There’s a call to adventure, the supernatural assistance and the transformation to which he must undertake. The reason why “Two Strings” are important is gorgeously explained.
In Kubo’s case, after losing his mother to his two aunts’ act of vengeance — they despised how she decided to stay in the mortal realm. No, they are not the reason for the loss of a chord. Instead, in what the boy discovers is hope. He meets Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) who help him discover who he is. This lad never knew who his father was, and throughout his adventure, just what he finds out has the Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) angry. I was half wondering if Tsukuyomi-no-Mikoto, the Moon God, will appear. The Heavens are divided; each kingdom is represented by different forces and on Earth, there’s no other champion seen adventuring except for Kubo.
This film is gorgeous on its own merits without having to reference the diverse pantheon represented in the Shinto religion. To do so would have overloaded this movie, and to look at Kubo’s direct family line makes this film comparable to Hercules dealing with his own problem father during his own legendary journeys. In what writers Marc Haimes and Chris Butler created is a family friendly fare which explores a difficult subject in how to deal with loss. There’s a wonderful subtext in what defines kin and in what I loved the most is how Kubo consistently has courage.
The animation contains adoring elements that refer to ancient Japanese art. Katsushika Hokusai’s “Great Wave off Kanagawa” is recreated with the same fantastic fervour and the style of how the characters are made is like those presented in Ukiyo-e woodblocks. Even the design of Kubo’s aunts has a nuance of being genuinely creepy. I’m sure the art production department studied many a book to insure accuracy to the Edo period being created.
The movies Studio Laika makes blends stop-motion with a light touch of CGI. Some digital moments are obvious, like digital snow overlays while others are not. This company has gone above and beyond to present a world that is not only really immersive but also scaled to look great on a big screen. One example is when Kubo, Monkey and Beetle fight Gashadokuro, a giant skeleton. People who love seeing how movies are made are best advised to sit through the credits to see how this encounter was created. I was blown away by the fact this creature was built to scale! If this company ever tours the puppets and sets they made, I am there! Heck, if they are seeing this review, can I get a tour of your studio please?
4½ Stars out of 5