What I expected was probably a visually stunning animation turned out to be so much more than that. Kubo And The Two Strings is a wonderful film that, if you ask me, has no age category.
Kubo is a young boy who possesses magical abilities that come to life when he plays his shamisen. He works as a storyteller in the village during the day, telling the story of Hanzo, his late samurai father. He looks after his mother the rest of the time, who warns him that he must return to their home by nightfall, or his aunts and his grandfather will attempt to steal his other eye, just as they took the first when he was a baby. When he stays out too long attempting to connect with his father through a ritualistic ceremony, his aunts find him. Kubo’s mother fends them off and uses the last of her magic to transport Kubo far away, telling him that he must find his father’s armour if he is to protect himself. Kubo goes from telling his father’s story to being thrust into his own perilous adventure.
‘If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see, no matter how unusual it may seem. If you look away, even for an instant, then our hero will surely perish.’
– Kubo And The Two Strings
From the outset, this story feels different, eerie and melancholy. There isn’t a happy, nuclear family that Kubo is taken from that he can return to at the end. Even at the start, we are dealing with awfully heavy themes for an animated children’s film: death, disability, child carers. There is enough humour and warmth from the villagers (and from Monkey and Beetle) to get us through, but when the moment is right, Kubo And The Two Strings cuts as deep as a katana.
This isn’t necessarily new – memories of Mufasa and Bambi’s mother spring to mind – but it is brave and it is welcome. I think children can benefit from exploring these themes, and stories like this are excellent ways to do so. That’s not to say that I don’t think adults can benefit from this too, I’m just afraid that some might think this film is too dark for children. It’s not – it strikes the balance perfectly and, while it will leave you in tears, it will also renew your faith in the world, in family, and in stories.
And Kubo And The Two Strings drives home the power of stories incredibly well. Even with the full set of armour and the Sword Unbreakable, Kubo understands that his strongest weapon against the dark forces pursuing him are stories and memories, those he can tell with his magic and his music, those of the departed and dearest to him. More powerful still is the ability we have to rewrite our stories, and the stories of those around us. From Kubo, we learn about courage, faith, and forgiveness. It’s an emotional scene in the film, one among many, and it’s the one that will stick with you when Kubo utters the final words of his story – ‘The End.’
This is the most beautiful animated film you will see this year, both inside and out.