Earlier this evening I had the opportunity to take a break away from my Sunday “chores” and go to one of my favorite places… the movies. Ever since I saw the previews to Kubo and the Two Strings I knew I had to see it. Potentially full of action, fantasy, drama, and with a Japanese setting, Kubo (as far as the trailer showed) was the movie for me. What did I think of it? Why am I bothering about a movie on a tabletop blog? Read on to find out…
Quick note. I am not a movie reviewer. If I were, this article would probably have some better structure to it. Even so, I’ve tried my best to get my thoughts across the best I can. If you’re still interested, read on. If you’re wary, head to the bottom, read my final thoughts and maybe read a bit more or not after that. Otherwise, turn back now…
“If you must blink… do it now.”
With a beautiful, almost other-worldly so, full moon shining upon the audience, a strange voice tells us those words. “Don’t look away” it explains, for you may not believe what you will hear, and if you falter as an audience, then the hero will surely perish. While the childlike persona tells us these instructions we are given an intense sequence involving a woman sailing in the open seas. Raging winds and gargantuan waves come to greet her and to thwart her passing but, with a stroke of her shamisen (a guitar, don’t worry, I had to look it up myself), the obstacles become no more, and an island is in view. Before she can make it, circumstances get in the way and she finds herself washed ashore, enduring a major injury, before crawling up to a baby child and comforting it. We’re then hit with the title, Kubo and the Two Strings.
Kubo and the Two Strings, is about (as you would guess) a young boy named Kubo as he struggles to deal with a harsh hand life has dealt him. When we first meet him he is missing an eye, he lives in a cave with his mother (who appears to be brain-dead) and what little food and money he can get is done so through street performing. But there’s some magic to be found there. Kubo walks into the city square, sporting a small bag filled with origami figurines that you would assume are merely for show, or to be sold for a spare penny. However, like Kubo’s mother in the beginning, once Kubo strikes a chord on his instrument, the impossible becomes real, and the origami and paper he brought with him come to life as he narrates a story of a brave warrior and an evil king. The townspeople are easily captivated with Kubo’s performance and the yarn he spins about the mighty warrior, Hanzo, but before Kubo and the other villagers realize, the sun is setting and Kubo must leave for the day, much to the audience’s (real and fictional) dismay.
I won’t go into too much plot wise, as to do that would spoil the fun of seeing the movie for yourself. Pretty soon after Kubo’s demonstration of his storytelling prowess, he’s whisked away on a journey to find 3 mystical items, and is joined by a Monkey awoken from a charm and a cursed Samurai, who is trapped in the form of a beetle humanoid. This unlikely trio must search for the very same items that Kubo’s father had looked for with the hopes that, as the story goes, these will keep Kubo safe from The Moon King, a powerful entity that, for reasons unknown, wishes to kidnap Kubo and finish what he started by removing his other eye.
On one hand, it’s a classic story of good vs evil. Kubo being good and those who are out to get him are, of course, of ill will. But as the story unfolds it takes a few turns here and there, and though there are some twists that are easy to see coming, they hold dramatic weight regardless, and help shape Kubo and the Two Strings into a great piece of cinema, rather than a summer kids movie.
Layered beneath this tale of right vs wrong is the concept of storytelling and memories. We get a sense of it in the beginning, with a narrator telling us to blink now while we still can. We see it when Kubo enthralls the people of his village with his story of Hanzo, the warrior, portrayed by his magical origami. We see it with all the people Kubo encounters who, in some form or another, have their own stories to tell (both in the cliche sense and literally). Stories are powerful, they help keep future generations not only informed of vital knowledge or instructions on how to handle certain situations, but they hold the memories of our loved ones, and it keeps those who leave us always nearby in some form or another.
On a more technical front, Kubo is simply gorgeous. Now, as a quick disclaimer, I’m not a big proponent of stop-motion animation. I definitely appreciate and acknowledge the insane effort that goes into the art, but aesthetically I can take it or leave it. It’s what’s kept me on the fence with movies like Coraline or The Boxtrolls (both by the same studio as Kubo, by the way). When done right, and I think Kubo has managed to capture that spark, you get a piece of art where every frame is a sight to behold. There’s a level of care and dedication that comes through in the cinematography and animation that even if you’re not one to take stock in those things, you’ll more than likely find it resonating with you in some way.
Okay, before I get too preachy, I’ll get to the point. I loved this movie. Though the story isn’t anything earth shattering, it’s nice to see an original story without some prior source material. Sure some of the elements of this movie can be seen elsewhere (Japanese culture, fantasy movies, etc) but you will find, when you research Kubo, that it isn’t based off of a fairy-tale, novel, or old show. It’s refreshing.
Originality aside, Kubo is some of the most fun I’ve had watching a movie in quite awhile. There is a pretty impressive balance of drama, tension, and even fear, in this movie that will certainly have to cater to the younger crowd. And for them there is humor strategically placed throughout to keep the kids engaged and the adults laughing as well.
Having two very distinct audiences can sometimes make a movie frustrating to watch. If it leans too heavily towards kids, then the adults will find the substance lacking. Go the other way and you go way over the heads of the younger audience. Kubo nails it right in the middle. The main plot is easy enough for kids to understand and is certainly engaging to both young and old. The concept that is introduced throughout the film of telling stories is likewise great for both. One layer deeper, though, and you find what I mentioned above about how stories keep our loved ones “alive” in a certain sense of the word, and with that we continue to remember those that are gone. I felt the heartstrings get tugged a couple of times, and that’s not something that happens a lot for me, especially with a summer movie.
So why am I talking about Kubo on a blog about a Lord of the Rings Card Game and various other tabletop games? Well for one, I just had to spill my thoughts somewhere, and for those of you who are reading this, I appreciate you sticking it out through my rambling. The other reason? Stories. I think a lot of us enjoy board games for the stories, for the social interactions they provide, and for the time they give us to spend with our friends and family. One of my favorite scenes in the movie has to do with Kubo experiencing something so mundane to most people, but unique to him. It’s his first time taking part in the activity and it in equal parts brings him joy and sadness. Though board games certainly don’t bring about such heavy moments as that, they’re reminders of the moments we get to share with loved ones, and the stories they provide. For that reason, I think this is a movie that will go over well for fans of our amazing card game, it’s subject material, and tabletop games in general.
If you find some spare time in the next couple of weeks, go see Kubo. Go with your significant other, your child, niece, nephew, brother, best friend, somebody who can share in the experience with you. On the plus side, you can tell them, it’s only 1 hour and 45 minutes long, so it isn’t that much of a commitment 😛
All joking aside, this movie clearly resonated with me and I hope it does with many others. I heard one reviewer mention that the studio behind Kubo could possibly become the next Studio Ghibli, and just thinking about taking in those kinds of tales with a new generation of storytellers gives me chills.
Okay, I’m done. I’m having a hard time wrapping this up, ending the story if you will. In short, Kubo and the Two Strings is an enthralling fantasy movie about love and loss, about finding your place in the world, and about taking stock of what life is really about, and all of it is in the disguise of a summer movie seemingly for kids. If you get the chance, go see it in theaters while you can. You won’t regret it.
For a reviewer that does a better job than myself, check this one out!
Thanks for reading.
-The Secondhand Took