Friday, 19 May 2017

Film Review: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)


Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) is an American 3D stop-motion animation about a young boy called Kubo, who, after his mother dies saving him, goes on a journey to find his father's armour, with the help of a snow monkey and humanoid beetle he meets on his travels. The film is made by Laika, a stop-motion animation studio famous for films such as Coraline (2009) and The Boxtrolls (2014), and directed by Travis Knight.
Fig. 2: Kubo's mother.

The film begins with Kubo's mother in a boat (fig. 2). It is clear she is attempting to escape something, and uses a magical shamisen (traditional Japanese instrument) to guide her way safely to land. In her relief at finally seeing land, she forgets to watch for waves, and becomes submerged, hitting her head on the rocks below the water. Her body is washed to shore, where she finds her baby, Kubo. His missing eye, stolen by his grandfather the Moon King, has been bandaged over. The film skips several years, and we meet an older Kubo, now caring for his mother who goes into a dissociative state during daylight, and is unable to eat or look after herself without Kubo's help. Kubo sits her at the mouth of the cave in which they live, before running down to the nearby town, where he uses the shamisen and his own magical abilities to create origami figures that come to life to tell his stories. Kubo returns to his mother before nightfall, and as the sun sets, she becomes her lively self, and tells Kubo stories of his father, which he will later tell to the people in the town. The audience learns that Kubo mustn't remain outside the cave at night, as his grandfather and two aunts are looking for him to take his other eye, and his mother can't protect him if he's not with her.

Fig. 3: Kubo's aunts.
As is typical of these stories, Kubo eventually stays out until nightfall, and on his way back to the cave is found by his aunts (fig. 3). His mother finds him before they catch him, and uses the last of her magic to send Kubo far away, with only his shamisen and monkey totem, which is brought to life by his mother to protect him. After Monkey, as she is referred to, explains to Kubo he needs his father's armour to protect himself from his grandfather, the two take a short rest before setting off, before finding Beetle. Beetle believes Kubo's father, Hanzo, was his master, and wishes to help Kubo find the armour. "The trio's scenes go from rip-roaring to breathless with a fluidity brought to life by the deployment of real-life puppets; with utmost care applied to every shot, the adults will be marvelling as much as the youngsters." (Stolworthy, 2016). As the film goes on, the three develop a family-like dynamic, and it is later discovered that Kubo's mother trapped her own soul within Monkey to look after Kubo, and Beetle is his father, who was transformed into his beetle-like form and had his memory wiped by Kubo's aunts, who wished to punish him for taking their sister away. Until this point, it was believed Kubo's father had died. But the happiness they have with each other is short-lived, as Kubo ends up alone once again after finding the final piece of armour. With the armour, and now stringless shamisen, Kubo confronts his grandfather back at the town he grew up near, and rather than defeat him, uses his magic to make him a mortal old man with no memory. Kubo and the townspeople convince him he was always a kindly old man, and he accepts it.
Fig. 4: Kubo, Monkey and Beetle.
Many of Laika's films seem to miss the mark when it comes to story, as they often require the audience to stretch their imagination a little further than others. However, the films are made with such obvious love and care, as well as excruciating attention to detail. The film does not shy away from it's scarier elements, which could be considered potentially terrifying to adults and children alike; "The script... has faith that kids can handle such tough stuff and never talks down to them. But Knight and his massive team of animators have packaged these weighty, complex themes within visuals that are just jaw-dropping in both their beauty and craftsmanship." (Lemire, 2016). Overall, the film is very family orientated, and could easily be enjoyed by anyone, whether their interests lie in stories or art. "it explores unexpectedly profound ideas of rebirth and destiny rewritten, like origami paper sheets refolded into another form." (Ide, 2016).
Fig. 5: Kubo's expressions.

Images:
Figure 1. Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) [poster] At: http://www.denofgeek.com/uk/movies/kubo-and-the-two-strings/43342/kubo-and-the-two-strings-review (Accessed on: 18.05.2017)

Figure 2. Kubo's Mother (2016) From: Kubo and the Two Strings. Directed by: Travis Knight [Film still] United States: Laika. At: http://collider.com/kubo-and-the-two-strings-images-trailer-posters/ (Accessed on: 19.05.2017)

Figure 3. Kubo's Aunts (2016) From: Kubo and the Two Strings. Directed by: Travis Knight [Film still] United States: Laika. At: https://appleboxreviews.com/2016/08/21/review-kubo-and-the-two-strings/ (Accessed on: 19.05.2017)

Figure 4. Kubo, Monkey and Beetle. (2016) From: Kubo and the Two Strings. Directed by: Travis Knight [Film still] United States: Laika. At: http://www.expansion.com/blogs/mcgufilms/2016/08/25/todas-las-curiosidades-de-kubo-y-las-dos.html (Accessed on: 19.05.2017)

Figure 5. Kubo's expressions. (2016) From: Kubo and the Two Strings. Directed by: Travis Knight [Film still] United States: Laika. At: http://ca-tsuka.tumblr.com/post/148260835268/kubo-and-the-two-strings-2016-movie-laika (Accessed on: 19.05.2017)

Bibliography:
Stolworthy, J. (2016) 'Kubo and the Two Strings, review: 'A marvellous adventure for both adults and children''. In: The Independent 09.09.2016 [online] http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/reviews/kubo-and-the-two-strings-review-laika-studios-pixar-zootropolis-charlize-theron-ralph-fiennes-the-a7234556.html (Accessed on: 19.05.2017)

Ide, W. (2016) 'Kubo and the Two Strings review – lyrical stop-motion tale'. In: The Guardian 11.09.2016 [online] At: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/sep/11/kubo-and-two-strings-review (Accessed on: 19.05.2017)

Lemire, C. (2016) 'KUBO AND THE TWO STRINGS'. In: rogerebert.com 19.08.2016 [online] At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/kubo-and-the-two-strings-2016 (Accessed on: 19.05.2017)

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