Kubo and the two strings (2016)

If you must blink, do it now, pay careful attention to everything you see, now matter how unusual it may seem. If you look away, even for an instant, then our hero will surely perish. 

Kubo and the two strings doesn’t feel American. I know that potentially sounds disenchanted and it’s probably not the best opening line I could come up with. But its the first thing that came to mind when I watched this movie. It’s meant to sound more like an unintended compliment and less like disillusionment (okay, maybe it’s a little disillusioned). It’s that Kubo is so fresh and different from the mainstream formulaic animation that has become a modern day studio staple that stirs my combativeness.

I feel capitalism inflicts a ‘style over substance’ regime on American animation studios. Everything they do is very pretty, technically amazing, but character development and story often feel like they’ve been added in as an afterthought. I think there is this conception that children are into visuals and humor, but story and imagination is wasted on them. As a story-telling mammal I’m inclined to disagree. Slowly over time, my regard for big budget American animation has slowly eroded. (I rage about this constantly in computer games too)

Its nice to be proven wrong from time to time.

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Kubo and the two strings is absolutely stellar, but I am unashamed Japanophile so I’m heavily bias towards the flavor of this stop motion film. Kubo is not an anime however, it retains its Western feel… but I think it’s likely that someone at Laika (Kubo’s production studio) is a big Ghibli* fan. Not in artistic style, but there’s something about Kubo that somehow feels very Japanese to me. Its not something I am nuanced or smart enough to be able to explain, Japanese narratives just have a different feel. Like when you go to a foreign country and you’re not used to the electrical sockets. It sorta feels like that.

* The Japanese Animation studio that made Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro. 

Kubo and the two strings follows the story of a young twelve year old boy in medieval Japan. Kubo was maimed by his grandfather, Raiden (the moon-god), who plucked out his eye when he was young. Kubo lives in a cave with his catatonic mother*. Everyday he treks to the closest village to earn money as a performance artist. (Kubo has some limited magical ability to animate paper and turns them into origami to help him tell stories). Events soon transpire and Kubo is thrust into an epic journey to recover his father’s sword and armor and face off against his evil grandfather.

*definitely NOT your usual storyboard.

For some reason it reminded me of an older animated movies like Disney’s The Black Cauldron (1985) although they are not similar. Maybe just because they deviated so much from the standard.

I look forward to being able to sit and watch Kubo and the two strings with my daughter. Although I imagine that will only be in a couple of years because of the ‘light’ horror element that comes with the mythology in this film.

If you liked Box-trolls or Coraline (Also great Laika creations) you’ll like Kubo and the two strings. Highly recommended.