Kubo And The Two Strings

A little dark, and a little melancholy for kids, but for me, near perfection.

Kubo is a little boy with a magical, ancient Japanese banjo. Well, technically the banjo wasn’t ancient at the time – he lives in ancient Japan. And the banjo isn’t actually a banjo, it’s a shamisen. When he plays his magical shamisen, his origami comes to life and helps him tell awesome stories about warriors and samurai. He’s busking, essentially, and the captivated crowd rewards him with a few coins – a good thing because he provides for his sick mother, who lives outside the village in a cave.  When she’s not in a trance, she’s adamant that Kubo always return before sundown. It was surprisingly sound advice from the mentally ill because THE ONE TIME he doesn’t, hell breaks loose. Ancient Japanese hell.

kubo-and-the-two-strings-530x298Turns out, Kubo’s grandfather is some sort of Moon God. Grandfather has already “stolen” one of Kubo’s eyes and wants to get his hands on the other – in blindness, his grandson can join him in immortality, ruling the sky. He sends his 2 creepy daughters to do the dirty work while his 3rd daughter, Kubo’s mom, struggles to protect him with what little magic she has left.

The movie is a grand adventure with more beauty in any random 30 seconds than The Secret Life of Pets has in its entire running time. As usual with Laika productions (they brought you Coraline), there are darker feelings at play, a sometimes ominous and foreboding tone unusual in a children’s movie, and yet the kids in the audience seemed to tolerate it better than they did Pete’s Dragon. It’s a glorious act of story-telling that feels like something genuinely passed down for generations. Every time Kubo picks up his shamisen, be prepared for some of the loveliest music you’ll hear at the movies. It sweeps you up into the magic of his origami, and the whole thing feels alive and vibrant, steeped in a culture filled with divine tradition.

Kubo And The Two Strings is surprisingly well-balanced tonally, able to incorporate gags meant Kubo-and-the-Two-Strings-just for kids between bouts of horror, humour, and yes, tragedy. It’s quite brave, when you think of it. Suicide Squad pulled back on the Joker’s villainy, and Ben-Hur rewrote some of its savagery. This, a meticulously animated piece of art, has the backbone to trust children with some rather heavy themes. And it does it while also being the most visually arresting thing I’ve seen at the movies this year. It’s a spectacle, and a technical triumph. Having no wordly idea how they pulled some scenes off just adds to the magic. Laika is no stranger to Oscar nominations for animation, and is sure to earn another, but this movie demolishes even their own high bar. Laika doesn’t have the cachet of Pixar so politically, beating Finding Dory will be difficult. But the proof is on the big screen: it is undoubtedly the better film.

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30 thoughts on “Kubo And The Two Strings

  1. J.

    I hadn’t heard of this until today (saw it advertised on the side of a bus this morning!), but the title and the image struck me. Dunno why. Anyhoo, you’ve sold it to me – kind of movie I need to see.

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    1. Jay Post author

      I thought it charming too, in parts. In hindsight though I was a bit annoyed that it was this formulaic adventure when the title itself, and the trailer as well, promised, well, the secret life of pets! I wish it had done more of that: what pets get up to when you’re gone. Their inner life.

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      1. fragglerocking

        We have been lucky here to have real documentaries on the secret life of cats, and it was more hilarious than this movie. They put a tracker/cameras on the collars of all the cats in one village and the results were funny as fuck. 😊

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  2. Sean

    Fantastic film! So beautiful all the way through, and yes, surprisingly dark. Though Coraline is one of the creepiest movies ever so it makes sense both are from the same studio. I appreciated how the writers did not hold back in order to stay “safe”.

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  3. Christy B

    Wow, it’s better than Finding Dory? I loooooved Finding Dory. Will have to check it out! A few free movie festivals are happening where I live and one of them is showing “Toy Story” on Wednesday night, speaking of animated films. I plan to go! I’ve seen it but it’s worth watching again 🙂

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  5. kmSalvatore

    animation is not my cup of tea at all. i like your story though.. seems a bit dark for kids? i dunno, maybe when my granddaughter is older i will venture out to see these things, but till then.. awesome review as always Jay

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