I am, amongst other things, something of a Japanophile. I don’t take it quite to the extent of ‘nyotaimori’ or ‘shokushu goukan’ (Google only when nobody else can see you), but I find the culture to be a rich and fascinating one. I have a kanji dictionary at home, Memoirs Of A Geisha is a guilty pleasure of mine and I genuinely enjoy the taste of sake. As such it is easy to imagine that, on paper at least, Kubo and the Two Strings is the kids movie I have been waiting for.
Originality really is the watchword for this piece of cinema. The relatively simple story of the young boys quest to recover the armour of his ancestors rings somewhat familiar, but the execution of it is done in a very enjoyable way. Kubo’s ability to manipulate objects through the use of his shamisen makes for some beautiful animation, although I did at time feel that this magical element could have been developed more. The visuals are nothing short of beautiful: the tall grasses and wide ocean scenes really give the impression of being trapped in a Japanese wood-block print (ukiyo-e for those that enjoy that style of painting). The animation is stunning too, with the stop-motion effects pairing very nicely with the origami-magic moments, my favourite of which had the paper-craft samurai slicing his way through monsters in a shower of red paper shreds, a purposeful allusion to the viscera depicted in a Kurosawa film and one which I found very effective. It also adds an additional layer of charm to the characters, particularly Kubo himself,which brings me neatly to my next point:
Kubo and the Two Strings is, for a kids movie, exceptionally well written. The dialogue is simplistic in places obviously, for it is meant for children, and I do feel that it could have been funnier in places, but there is an undercurrent of complexity which would easily go over the heads of the target audience. The fact that the main antagonist of Kubo is his own family, and the fact that his orphaned status is not only made clear but actually shown is a very bold move. It harks back to older animated films, which were unafraid to pull punches and more than happy to leave kids traumatised, which this film could well do. The two witch-aunts with their china-doll masks are genuinely terrifying, as are the Garden Of Eyes and the giant skeleton, the latter being a rather clever representation of the ‘Gashadokuro‘: actual monsters of Japanese mythology.
Kubo and the Two Strings is already garnering critical success, and rightfully so. The story is thoroughly absorbing, the characters compelling and sympathetic, and the whole film is wonderfully vibrant and imaginative. The soundtrack could’ve used more fast-paced shamisen pieces, but that is a personal preference rather than an actual criticism. Above all else, I found this film to be charming, engaging and above all original, and that fact alone is reason enough to shell out the price of an admission ticket, because it really will be money well spent.