Life doesn’t give you a choice in regard to the hand you’re dealt; your job is to play it to the best of your ability and hope for the best, maybe.
Kubo and the Two Strings (2016) follows Kubo, a one eyed magical boy who escaped on his mom’s back from his magical, malevolent aunts. His aunts are constantly hunting him for his other eye, not resting until they obtain them both. Kubo is a powerful character whose potential is discovered as he wanders through the world he’s in. He is on a quest to reclaim the magical armor his father wore, compiled of a helmet, sword, and body armor.
The film starts with the narrative voice of Kubo speaking to the viewer. A small boat with Kubo and his mom in a treacherous storm come on screen, along with a huge tidal wave about to swallow them whole.
Kubo’s mom is carrying a shamisen, a three-stringed Japanese musical instrument that looks somewhat like a banjo. She gives the strings of the shamisen a viscous strike with a pick and a magical sound wave is emitted from the shamisen, splitting the giant wave ahead of her down the middle.
The two are safe now, but only for a moment. To her surprise, Kubo’s mom doesn’t realize the identical tidal wave rising directly behind her. Before she can do much else, she looks up and watches the wave crash down on her. She is sucked underneath the wave and her face smacks a rock on the ocean floor.
They both surprisingly survive, and yet tragedy never shies too far away from Kubo. After that night of lying on the shore, we see Kubo lead a simple life of storytelling with live origami pieces every day for the village he lives near.
We also see Kubo take care of his mom during the day because her brain is that of a vegetable, nearly all mush. The impact of her head hitting that rock in the beginning messed with her brain and caused irreparable damage.
It’s a bit confusing, though, since when Kubo returns to his home at night, his mom’s brain comes back to life. Nighttime seems to be the only time she’s able to be with Kubo as her fully functional self. Upon sunrise, Kubo leaves her at home, where she sits all day blank-faced staring out into an ocean.
Most of the film revolves around Kubo trying to make his life better, and by better, that means happiness. It’s funny how we take for granted some of the best things we have in our life. They seem so small they end up blinding us from what we already have, and Kubo shows the audience those things in subtle ways.
The stop motion animation director Travis Knight uses in Kubo and the Two Strings is one of the most refreshing animation styles I’ve seen in a while, a bit baffling in fact. A beautiful picture accompanied with such a well-crafted story, this film, in my opinion, is up there with some of the best made in recent memory.