Monday, October 31, 2016

"Kubo and the Two Strings": a two-paragraph review

"Kubo and the Two Strings" is the third Laika production I've watched, the other two being "Coraline" and "ParaNorman." "Coraline" was decent but not that charming; "ParaNorman" was orders of magnitude better in terms of story and character and visuals; "Kubo and the Two Strings" is easily the best of the three—the most engaging, and the most moving. The film stars Art Parkinson as Kubo, Charlize Theron as Kubo's mother and as another significant character, Matthew McConaughey as Beetle, and Ralph Fiennes as the Moon King/Kubo's malefic grandfather. It tells the story of Kubo, a magical baby born to a magical mother, who loses one of his eyes when his grandfather steals it. Kubo has a cosmic pedigree; it's strongly implied that his magical heritage comes from the fact that his mother doesn't come from the mortal realm. Kubo makes money by using his magic to help him tell stories in a nearby town. Playing his shamisen, Kubo creates and animates origami figures that depict the adventures of the samurai Hanzo, Kubo's missing father. As his mother constantly warns him, Kubo must always come home before dark, lest his evil aunts—servants of Kubo's grandfather—find him. One night, his aunts (both voiced by Rooney Mara) catch Kubo in the dark; his mother, who has been losing her memory, rushes out to protect him, sending him away and giving him the mission of finding his father's armor and weaponry. Accompanying Kubo on his quest are Monkey and Beetle; the three engage in several adventures, and big secrets are revealed.

I think I was choked up, at various points in the plot, for about half the movie's run time. The narrative is basically about a boy who cares for his weak and mentally fading mother, then seemingly loses her. That hits a little too close to home for me; the movie was automatically compelling, given the nature of the story. The screenplay's writers, Shannon Tindle and Marc Haimes, are both American, but the tale they've chosen to tell is utterly Japanese, and very much in the spirit of Asian folklore. East Asian audiences will quickly and easily relate to themes of filial piety, ancestry, and the power of memory. The final plot twist was predictable—the movie gives you plenty of hints as to what revelation is coming—but what mattered more to me were the movie's tone and depth of feeling. "Kubo" is a deeply touching movie, and as a story that deals with the loss of loved ones, it handles such delicate subject matter both deftly and maturely, in such a way that both kids and adults will be able to relate to it. The movie preaches the twin values of storytelling and memory, with memory being declared the most powerful magic of all: without memory, how can you tell a story, and how can you hold on to your loved ones? I've read some critics who complained that "Kubo" ends on an ambiguous note, but it should be obvious that that ambiguity has everything to do with what the movie was saying about stories and memory. "Kubo" came out late here in Korea; I imagine it's already faded from US theaters. If you haven't seen it, wait for it to come out on video; it'll be worth your while. This is Laika's warmest, most heartfelt production yet.

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