Directed by Travis Knight. Animation by Laika.
This stop motion animation film brings incredible visuals to a story of fierce family vendetta. A goddess who betrayed her family to marry a human for love is hunted by her father and sisters. After the death of her husband at the hands of her sisters, and the loss of her infant son’s eye at the hand of her father, she manages to escape with the boy and find secret refuge in a remote village. Years later, Kubo is a magical boy, earning his and his mother’s living by telling stories in the market. He plays a shamisen (a Japanese 3 stringed lute) that animates paper squares which become living origami illustrations of his stories. This is the perfect visual for the film’s theme: the stories we tell when we gather together have the power to transform who and what we are.
Kubo’s mother has been shattered by the sad turns of her life. Sometimes she is lucid, enchanting Kubo with stories of her own, more often she is lethargic, sullen, barely alive. Lonely and isolated, Kubo finds a second mother in a kindly old beggar woman. Longing to connect with the happy rituals of the locals, Kubo soon forgets to follow the few simple rules that keep him hidden from his grandfather--who want nothing more than to find Kubo and finish blinding him.
When his grandfather and aunts arrive with fire and storm, Kubo is forced to flee. Armed with only his mother’s monkey charm, a paper swordsman, his shamisen, and his paper squares, he sets out on a quest to recover his father’s sword, helm and armour. While the quest provides a plot and set pieces for the trajectory of the story the resolution is not about continuing violence by wielding these items in battle—such weapons did not save his father. In the end, when it seems Kubo has lost all, even the strings from his instrument, it is his attachment to the memories of his parents that enable him to stand firm and tell a story that cuts where a sword could never reach.
The beautiful truth: Like Kubo’s animated paper, we are not static selves. We are always being remade in each moment of decision—more, we are not just re-making ourselves moment by moment, we’re remaking everyone we connect with, as they remake us. We know this is true because the consequences of other people’s actions surround us like the air and ground—they hold us up and we breathe them in, positive and negative, as a matter of course. Despite this, we’re prevailingly taught that we’re exceptional, isolated selves shaped by our will alone.
Kubo and the Two Strings is wise and very well conceived. There are some slow moments through the middle, but its unique visuals are always extraordinary. It’s hard to escape Kubo's enchantment.