Feat. The Performance by Regina Spektor of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
“If you must blink do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see and hear, no matter how unusual it may seem.”
Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) is a hero’s tale which shall live on, thanks to the ingenuity of animator/director, Travis Knight, and the folks at LAIKA studios, who brought you Coraline (2009) and The Box Trolls (2014). Their 4th full-length feature is a visual marvel, a fantastic feast for the imagination, and a proper ode to storytellers everywhere. Overall, this film is a blissful experience.
With his only eye, young Kubo scans the streets of his quaint Japanese fishing village, and then strums the three strings of his shamisen. The bustling scene comes to a full stop. It’s a conditioned response from the villagers, who realize it’s story time! Eagerly, they circle round Kubo, who strikes up an oriental bluegrass tune, setting the action of his story into motion. The music enchants not only Kubo’s audience, but also breathes life into the the hero of his epic adventure, his little origami sidekick, Hanzo The Samurai!
But Kubo is not just telling of a hero’s journey, he is becoming the hero of his own journey at the same time. Author and mythologist, Joseph Campbell, said “Life is without meaning. You bring the meaning to it.” One of Campbell’s main assertions is that storytelling, like dancing, is universal, and is an essential quality of our humanity. Through stories we derive inspiration, and forge new memories. And memories are very powerful things. They are the fuel that burns eternal in the fire of our collective soul. If we “hold our stories deep in our hearts,” as Kubo says, they cannot be taken away from us. And they will never cease to inspire us.
Telling a story is real magic. And “magic is not meant to be easy.” Says Monkey (Charlize Theron), Kubo’s devoted magical guardian. At times while watching this film, I found myself in awe at the beauty of it all, trying to imagine the level of care that must have gone into it’s production. One of the crew’s most difficult challenges was constructing, and animating, a 16-ft. tall skeleton puppet, the largest stop motion puppet ever made.
In the film the skeleton is a force to be reckoned with. In fact, there are several notable adversaries throughout the story, including The Moon King (Ralph Fiennes), and The Evil Twin Sisters (Rooney Mara). Mara sinks her teeth into her role as the gliding, frightening, V for Vendetta mask-wearing, dagger-wielding witches.
The voicing of the rest of the characters is phenomenal, as you’d expect, given the exceptional cast. As “Beetle,”Matthew McConaughey crawls into the shell of Tim Allen’s archetypal character, Buzz Lightyear, and finds his own home within it, striking an ideal blend of caring alacrity, macho-bravado, and humorous bull-headedness.
Besides the acting, vivid imagination, and exceptional craftsmanship of this film, it exudes a level of wisdom that is all too rare in film (or anywhere) these days. Its lessons are tastefully subtle; I’m sure many of them flew right over my head the first time.
It is significant that Kubo is missing an eye. As the character explains later in the film, it was taken from him by those who do not wish for him to be able to see the love in other people – his friends and family. For love is what unites people in peace and harmony with one another, to resist the people and forces in the world which seek to divide us. One need only remember the love in times of darkness, when our hearts become cold, when our voices go silent. We must learn from this fantastic story of Kubo. And realize that we are not alone in our fight. When our hero’s instrument goes silent, the entire symphony is there to back him up.
EFC 08 Soundtrack: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” by George Harrison. Performed by Regina Spektor. Arrangement by Dario Marianelli.
Kubo and The Two Strings
Release Date: August 19, 2016
Director: Travis Knight (Directorial Debut)
Writers: Marc Haimes and Chris Butler (“ParaNorman”)
Voice Cast: Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro, and Matthew McConaughey
The Inside Out: Joy (35%), Sadness (23%), Fear (19%), Disgust (13%), Anger (5%)