“If you must blink, do it now.” This is how Kubo, a young storyteller, begins all his stories as crowds gather round. “Pay careful attention to everything you see, no matter how unusual it may seem.” The same applies for the film: if you look away, you’ll be missing out.
Kubo has lived his whole life hiding from the Moon. When he was just a baby, he was attacked by the Moon King, who stole his left eye, which he now covers with a patch hidden under his fringe. The Moon King eventually perished, along with Kubo’s Samurai father, but this isn’t the end of their story.
Since that night, Kubo has been forced to hide from the moon in a cave where his sick mother, a sorceress, recounts legends of their ancestors. When he is finally caught outdoors as the moon rises, he finds himself fleeing for his life. With the last of his mother’s magic, a talking monkey and a beetle warrior, Kubo sets off on an epic quest to find an enchanted suit of armour once worn by his father before the Moon King can take his other eye.
This may seem like an oversimplified evaluation, but everything is wonderful. From the animation to the characters and the score, it’s all close to perfect.
Laika has this whole animation thing down to a beautiful art form, and Kubo And The Two Strings is their best one yet. You could play it on a loop in the Musée du Louvre and it wouldn’t look out of place. Even though we know that the props, the characters and the settings are tiny, it all feels so much bigger.
Watching the film is a case of being stuck in a paradox of constantly forgetting that it’s all stop-motion, while also being unable to stop marvelling at the fact that it’s all stop-motion. Just one scene has more life in it than most live-action films.
Movie music enthusiasts will fall in love with Dario Marianelli’s fantastic score, which is often presented through Kubo playing his mother’s magical guitar that he carries around with him. Its earthy quality is paired perfectly with the otherworldly backdrops as Kubo, Monkey and Beetle venture through forests and caves and across lakes and valleys.
The artwork and music combined create a viewing experience so immersive that you’ll be sad to leave the cinema after the credits (and you won’t leave until the credits are over). As with everything else, the voice cast is also perfect, with Art Parkinson as Kubo performing just as well as the Oscar winners and nominees surrounding him.
The story is universal: it’s charming, exciting and frightening. It’s about family, love and sacrifice. It’s about standing up for yourself and doing what’s right. It’s also largely about death and losing people close to you, as highlighted by the residents of Kubo’s village as they take part in the Bon Festival, a traditional Japanese Buddhist custom of honouring the spirits.
Both the film and Bon Festival are more about celebration than mourning, speaking to ancestors from beyond the grave and sending candle-lit lanterns down rivers to honour their memories. People who have lost loved ones will easily find something to identify with, and people who haven’t will still feel the sting.
Although Kubo And The Two Strings mostly handles death quietly but sincerely through the eyes of its young protagonist, it can also be huge and passionate, coming out of nowhere and winding you as if you’d been punched in the stomach.