Kubo And The Two Strings (2016) Review: Music To My Eyes
Sometimes, especially in the summer, film’s status as an art form tends to be forgotten. I guess it’s because when we think of art, we think of it as something that you have to “get” before you can relate to it. Movies though draw huge crowds of all ages, so no such threshold exists. Sure some movies need a little bit of analysis to get into, but by and large, it’s not difficult for John and Jane Q. Popcorn.
What stands out in ‘Kubo and the Two Strings’ is that for as much as it might throw at you at the beginning of the movie, you’ll never feel overwhelmed. Nothing is completely explained, but at the same time, it never feels like it has to be. You pick up the rules as the movie goes along, and as a result, it feels like a tighter film. There’s no time wasted with long winded exposition, and you get to have a feel for the characters instead of being bored. Last time I saw a movie take this approach, leaving you at the mercy of your own deductions, was ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’
Every now and then a movie comes along to remind me that movies are indeed, art, just the kind of art that doesn’t condescend. ‘Kubo And The Two Strings’ is one such movie. It follows the story of a young boy, Kubo. A musician/storyteller who uses his mother’s mystical shamisen (a three stringed Japanese instrument sounding not unlike a banjo) to bring his origami characters to life, regaling epic tales of samurai, monsters and evil spirits to his local village. Pretty soon though, Kubo realises that his stories are not just fiction, and he soon finds himself swept up in an adventure, that even he doesn’t know the end.
Once you fall in love with him though, the movie will put him in dangerous situation after dangerous situation. It’s how the movie explores its underlying theme of fear. You fear for Kubo’s life, like a parent to a child, but you also want him to overcome his fears, and realise his true potential. The movie says “Growing up is scary, but not realising who you are is even scarier.” Just ask Jean Valjean.The way magic works isn’t important to the movie, what’s important is the relationship Kubo has with his mother. She’s the only family he’s ever known, and the source of his fantastic stories. Their relationship is not the easiest, since Kubo’s mother is mostly nocturnal, reverting to a vegetative state in the daylight. The movie’s portrayal of a child caring for his disabled mother is moving, and you see everything that comes with it. Frustration, burdening, with immense love and compassion. It’s hard not to fall in love with Kubo.
The way the movie explores those complex themes is through some of the most visually stunning environments and designs I’ve seen this year. The animation is the same as in films like Coraline, everything looks to be made of paper. Amazingly though, you still get the sense of texture and depth, just in a completely unique way. It’s also wildly colourful, and of course, in a movie about a musician, music plays a big part. Even if the story wasn’t an existential spiritual journey, it would still be beautiful.
It’s also a very funny movie. You won’t feel bogged down by the deeper subjects. Humour is a very important part of how the movie wants to explore its story. A lot of that comes from Kubo’s companions, a talking monkey, named Monkey and a giant talking beetle, named Beetle. Monkey is wise and no nonsense, Beetle can’t remember what he did last week, and walks around without the burden of purpose, evidenced by the hapless smirk constantly on his face, much to the ire of Monkey.
There’s a lot more I could get into with ‘Kubo and The Two Strings’. It’s definitely a movie that warrants conversation. Ultimately I’ll just say that this was one of my favourite cinema experiences this year. Its story is very simple, but that’s sort of the point. It’s a pleasure to look at, and engages you with sequences that are nothing short of inspired. Weeks since my viewing of it and I’m still thinking about it often. For me, it might just be one of the greats.