Kubo and the Two Strings: Destruction and Creation

Daniel GoetzFebruary 1, 2018Creation and DestructionMedia

The movie begins. The screen is dark. A child narrates a warning: “If you must blink, do it now.”

Then, a full moon appears against a stormy night sky. Eerie music plays. Gigantic waves almost touch the sky. A woman is seen in a dugout canoe rolling down a wave with a shamisen, a guitar-like instrument, in her hands. The narrator continues: “Pay careful attention to everything you see and hear, no matter how unusual it may seem.” Suddenly, a menacing wave towers over the woman, about to break. It seems she will surely drown, but then she strums her shamisen and the wave parts. “And please be warned, if you fidget, if you look away, if you forget any part of what I tell you, even for an instant, then our hero will surely perish.” Within seconds I was on the edge of my seat.

When I first heard about Kubo and the Two Strings I knew that I had to see this movie. Initially I thought that this animated film would be a typical lighthearted movie for young children, but I discovered that it is an action film full of terrifying monsters, spirits, and magic, with underlying themes about serious human issues such as death and destruction.

This film centers around a smart, imaginative boy named Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson), who takes a hero’s journey to find a great warrior’s armor — his only hope to defeat his enemy. Soon after the opening scene, it is revealed that Kubo has magical powers. Like his mother, he can also play the shamisen, which makes his origami creations come to life, acting out the story he narrates. Kubo entertains and delights the villagers with his strumming. Kubo tells a story about a warrior, which, in fact, is similar to the journey he takes. As Kubo travels he is met with tests of courage, which can be terrifying to watch but is ultimately what makes this film fantastic. Kubo’s appearance is a constant reminder of the theme of loss, but I won’t spoil the plot by revealing why. It is obvious that Kubo’s two strings represent creation and destruction, mother and father, and good and evil.

Whenever there is a sad or intense moment, the director inserts a humorous interaction between Kubo and his companions, Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey) to cut the tension. These are the most endearing parts of the movie. Monkey has a commanding voice but can be tender, and Beetle is a complex character with a personality that is both goofy and strong.

My father had read that the animators used a 3D printer in the production of this animated movie. This intrigued me because I have some experience with 3D printing and was curious to see this technology used in a film. After I saw the movie, I watched a clip about the making of Kubo and discovered that Laika, the animation studio that produced this film (along with Coraline, The Boxtrolls, and ParaNorman), used a technique called stop motion. Stop motion is an old animation technique and is very time-consuming. Each puppet is moved into position for one still shot. This is done over and over by moving the objects slightly each time. All these still photos are then put together to make the film, so that when you watch the movie there is the illusion of movement.

Laika chose to use this antiquated animation technique in order to make a beautifully detailed film. Their dedication is evident in the film. The humans, monsters, and scenery all have infinite details. I watched Kubo and the Two Strings a second and third time and I discovered details that I hadn’t seen before! The illusion of the water, Kubo’s hair, and Monkey’s fur pushes the limits of this animation technique. For example, the puppets used in Kubo’s story about the warrior are children, adults, and elders all unique, dressed in colorfully detailed and patterned kimonos. It is hard to imagine how much work this scene required because there are so many elements to move for each still shot. I am amazed that each member of the crowd moves independently clapping, smiling, or interacting with the show. The origami warrior and humorous paper monsters he fights, for example a huge yellow chicken, move to the tempo of the music making this scene exciting to watch. The cinematography is even more amazing because we, the audience, view this performance from the perspective of a bystander peering through the crowd of villagers. Sometimes this scene is shot from above. But the most exciting camera position is close to the action of the origami fight. This scene is so meticulously crafted you can even tell by the shadows cast from the characters and buildings that it is set in the afternoon!

Kubo and The Two Strings is like a piece of art rather than a film made for entertainment. I rate this dark but magical movie 4.5 out of 5. It explores how destructive and loving family members can be, and the comfort of honoring the spirit of our ancestors. Throughout the adventure, Kubo learns to harness his powers, and to use them to fulfill his destiny, and to honor his parents’ love. It is a great movie and I recommend watching it.

Daniel Goetz is 12 years old and lives in Brooklyn, New York. He attends The Berkeley Carroll Middle School. He loves to play video games, make animation projects, and spend time with his family.