Hello there, my friends of the t-internet variety.
How be you be? I be fine.
Well, you may ask, where the hell were you this week?
Eh, I was working on a show for the Fringe Festival. Went well. Took a few days. Whaddayawant, blood?
Anyhow, what did I see this week. OK. What did I see…
Kubo and The Two Strings is an absolute treat, start to finish. There are a few niggling things which we’ll get to, but straight off the bat I recommend you get out and see this film. It represents an unusual thing these days – an original, independent film that is artistically uncompromised and just plain lovely.
It’s made by the geniuses at LAIKA, who also gave you ParaNorman, The Boxtrolls, and Coraline. Their stuff is top-class.
Set in Ancient Japan, the film opens on a woman rowing frantically away form a sinister force of some description, when she crashes (complete with surprisingly nasty head-crack-off-rock). Her precious cargo? A wee babby boy with only one freakin’ eye.
Over this Kubo’s narration is layered – “If you must blink, do it now” – which is a pretty epic introduction. I was onboard (unlike the characters, who went overboard) immediately with this scene – it’s emotive, it’s dark, it’s beautiful to look at and it is atmospheric as hell. Snap to the title card, and we’re off!
Cut to some years later – the young boy Kubo now using his magical shamisen to –
Sorry, it’s this yoke.
Anyhow, he uses his magical shamisen to make little origami figures act out stories for the local townsfolk. Another majorly cool thing about the film – Kubo just is magical. His powers are never explained, or questioned, or deepened. They just are. He’s just a magical boy. And that’s awesome.
His mother, meanwhile, has grown ill (presumably due to her head-crackage in the prologue) and she has begun to forget a lot of their life together. Kubo is caregiver and breadwinner, using his tips from the villagers to feed his ailing Mom. The only rule they must obey, is that Kubo must be at home before sundown, or ELSE….
Or else! Just or else. OK? Jesus. H.
Anyhow, wouldn’t ya know it, he does go out after sundown to light a lantern for his deceased father Hanzo (a great warrior no less) and is then chased for the remainder of the film by a series of terrifying monsters/demons/awesome giant eyeballs.
His main antagonists are his Aunts, The Sisters.
And along the way he’ll fight a giant fucking red Skeleton with a crown made of swords.
On his new-found quest for not just a magical sword, but a magical helmet AND a magical breastplate, he is joined by Monkey and Beetle, one of whom is technically also his mother from earlier and the other is … just … just watch the film OK? It’s complex.
Eventually he must confront his Grandfather, RAIDEN The Blind Moon King, who stole one of Kubo’s eyes and now wants his remaining ocular ball so that Kubo can be immortal and, crucially, unfeeling, like him. Raiden looks wicked too.
Now here comes my major bugbear with this film, and seemingly a lot of peoples. It’s set in Japan. It’s set the during the Obon Festival ( wherein people honour their dead with paper lanterns afloat on a body of water). It’s got a wonderful Asian sensibility to it throughout. But…
All the lead characters, Asian or Monkey or Monster, are voiced by white actors. Only the townspeople have a few actors of Asian origin scattered amongst them, including poor aul George Takei, who is rolled out to say that one thing he always says.
No, sadly, not that. Though he should always say that, Trump is a monster. The other thing.
Even Kubo, the young hero, is voiced by an IRISH ACTOR FROM FUCKING DONEGAL.
Yeah, basically, the whitewashing is strong with this one. And it’s a real pity, because the film is a real beauty. It’s wonderfully complex for a children’s film, and doesn’t talk down to them about death, or loss, or grief. Characters die in this, characters harbour grudges irrationally, characters misunderstand each other and argue and then…
And then the end happens.
I know I’m usually fairly spoiler-happy in these reviews, but if you actually want to see the film, stop now. I wanna go into a little bit of detail on this one.
So at the end of the film, Raiden The Moon King goes full Fish-Monster Final Form, and Kubo swears he shall kill him with his magical sword.
And, as he realises he cannot beat him through force, Kubo uses his magical shamisen, strung now with the bow-string of his father, and a lock of hair from his mother, and transforms the Moon King into a mortal man.
As the old man sits there, confused, with one eye now just like Kubo, the townspeople come out of the woodwork…
And they forgive him.
Having forgotten his past misdeeds, the townspeople fill in his blanks, saying how good a man he is, how they admire him, how his family love him, how he has a grandson, and holy fucking shit the tears are coming now I can’t stop sorry folks….
It’s the most incredible ending. Compassion wins out. It’s there even in Kubo’s face, as the fragile, frightened man asks if he will tell him what happened. Kubo nearly doesn’t. The animation in that moment is just breathtaking. He nearly doesn’t, and then he decide’s it’s the right thing to do. He forgives him. Even after the death of BOTH OF HIS PARENTS (yeah the beetle was his Dad), he forgives his Grandfather for what he’s done.
Holy Jesus. I can’t even deal with that. The animated one-eyed kid is a better person than I’ll ever be.
Go see this film, for the love of everything good.