Friday, March 03, 2017
Kubo and the Two Strings
Directed by Travis Knight, what is amazing about the film is that it is an original script. It seems like something right out of Joseph Campbell, and despite it's Japanese setting is not some ancient Japanese tale, but it certainly has the elements of many other hero adventures without feeling like a rip-off.
Kubo is a boy of about ten living with his mother. She escaped her evil family, who had taken one of Kubo's eyes as a baby. He is able to use paper to make origami, which he takes to town to tell stories. The catch--his origami can move without being touched. He plays a shamisen (I looked that up), a three-stringed instrument, and spins yarns about a samurai warrior named Hanzo (who was Kubo's late father) who does battle with the Moon King. But he never finishes his stories--he has to get back before sundown, the only time he is vulnerable to his evil aunts and his grandfather, who wants his other eye.
Of course one day he will stay out after dark and his aunties come after him. His mother manages to hold them off, but he is sent to the Far Lands, where he must find three pieces of armor that will enable him to defeat his grandfather. He is guided by a snow monkey and then by one of Hanzo's samurais, who has been cursed into being part beetle. This all fits the classic quest model--hero seeks magic objects, aided by sidekicks, chased by evil villains, all while making personal discoveries.
This is a smashing film, with terrific stop-motion animation. The sisters, who float and wear kabuki masks, are great. There is a terrific battle with a giant skeleton. The climax is poignant, and with mercy, not revenge. As much as I liked Zootopia, I would have voted for Kubo and the Two Strings for Best Animated Feature.
The voice cast is quite famous; Charlize Theron as the mother and the monkey, Matthew McConnaughey as the beetle, Rooney Mara as the evil sisters, and Ralph Fiennes as the Moon King. This is an all-around terrific film.