Wednesday, 14 September 2016

movies with kirsty: kubo and the two strings

I went to the cinema yesterday on a whim to see Kubo and the Two Strings. I knew next to nothing about it, other than that it was made by Laika who also produced Coraline, one of my favourite animated movies. I had probably seen one, maybe two posters for it on the side of a bus. Once the film started rolling there were probably only around half a dozen people sharing the room with me. All I want to know is, why isn't this film getting more recognition? Why isn't it being advertised everywhere? Why isn't everyone having conversations about Kubo?

This film is honestly, truly magical. Never before has stop-motion seemed so beautiful, engaging and quite honestly breathtaking. If your childhood was comprised of watching every single episode of Wallace and Gromit (as mine was) and marvelling at the dedication of the artists once you discovered they were made out of clay, Laika is about to blow your mind. The sheer amount of detail is astounding; it is not just the people who are bursting with individuality and character but the animals, the buildings, the elements of water and fire, and of course Kubo's paper creations. Any previous problems with stop-motion animation have been resolved with the help of technology - the action taking place in front of a green screen allowing for smooth day to night transitions and explorations of all sorts of climates, whether it be a snowy tundra, tempestuous ocean storm or a hazy dreamland. The opening line of the whole film is 'If you must blink, do it now.' Indeed, the scenes that unfold in front of you will make you regret closing your eyes for even a second.

The story itself is also full of wonder and fantasy, although perhaps leans too far towards whimsy on occasion. It tells of young boy Kubo, hunted by his evil grandfather and aunts who wish to steal his other eye (they already succeeded in taking one when he was a baby) in order to make him immortal, yet unfeeling and heartless to the world. He must find his father's armour in order to defeat them, and is accompanied and helped along the way by a surly yet caring monkey, a forgetful yet charming man cursed to live as a beetle, and a small paper warrior who is mute yet helpful. In a nutshell, this is your typical hero's journey, complete with orphaned protagonist, comic relief sidekicks and plenty of convenient plot developments/deus ex machina. The film often makes reference to stories and their construction, Kubo as the 'hero', suggesting self-awareness, but in some points it is not too subtle, and seems like the writers just wanted to create a good story with a beginning, middle and end. There is a strong plot arc, even if it's resolved pretty quickly to make for a good conclusion. And there's nothing wrong with that - at the end of the day it is a family film. If you want something complex you can watch Memento.

The movie definitely benefits from its setting in ancient Japan, allowing for some satisfying details and magical realism to emerge. Kubo's enchanted shamisen (his stringed instrument) and origami-that's-not-quite-origami are two particularly fantastic elements which are both relevant to the plot and pay homage to traditional Japanese culture in a respectful way. Although it would have been especially brilliant if they had carried this on by casting more Japanese -or at least Asiatic- actors in major roles, those actually in the film do a good job. The emotive and imposing Ralph Fiennes is of course a particular stand-out as the Moon King - he just does a villain so well. Art Parkinson, recently of Game of Thrones is endearing and enjoyable as protagonist Kubo, despite his occasional slips in accent. And you'll be happy to know George Takei gets his signature 'oh myyyyy' in, although his character has very little dialogue. (Side note. Charlize Theron's voice is just way too sexy for a monkey.)

Overall, this is a simply stunning film, with themes of grief, family, destiny and retribution throughout. It will amaze you, amuse you, and it may even make you cry (I definitely shed a few tears at the end). If you're a parent, please take your kids to see it, and if you're not, go see it anyway. Supporting films like this is so important! They can't get made if we don't watch them.

Until next time,

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