Sorry, I missed the last two weeks, but this week you’re getting three reviews starting with a double feature of Kubo and the Two Strings and Magnificent Seven. Saturday, you’re getting that Miss Peregrine review I promised.
So, without further ado: Damn it! How did I not get out to see this sooner?!
I love Japan. It’s where most things I love about my life (ie sushi (among other Asian food I like), anime, manga, and videogames) come from. I love Japanese culture, I hope to visit the country at least once before I die (or the heat death of the universe; whichever comes first), and I love things that draw from Japanese folklore. Most countries have a variety of unique and interesting urban legends, mythologies, and folklore that explore themes and ideas important to said cultures. Sometimes they’re in the popular to Western Audience European fairy tale teaching children kind of way with a central morale and sometimes they’re trying to scare folks. Japan is no exception. While I don’t think this is based on an actual Japanese fairy tale, it might as well be.
Kubo is a young one eyed boy living with his ailing mother in a cave outside a small village. Everyday he goes down the the village to entertain the villagers with his shamisen (the guitar-like instrument he has) to tell stories using magic made by playing it to bring paper origami to life, but never finishes the story as he always leaves before sundown lest his grandfather, The Moon King (…Yeah, it’s a fairy tale. Just roll with it), and his aunts find him and try to steal his remaining eye. During the annual summer Obon festival (sort of like the Japanese equivalent of Day of the Dead, but with more lanterns and less candy), he stays out past sundown and his aunt find him. His mother sacrifices her life to help him escape and bring his little monkey charm to life. Now they and a beetle man they found along the way must find the three magical items that can protect Kubo from the Moon King.
Like I said, the story is like that of a Japanese fairy tale. It has a mystical and God like bad guy that needs to be overcome through some quest where the character learns a valuable lesson along the way. Usually a harsh one. Japanese fairytales don’t tend to end with a happily ever after. Urashima Taro spends three days at the Dragon God’s palace, returns to find that three hundred years have passed, and he dies from grief and old age. The tanuki kills the woman who spares him, takes her form, and has her husband unknowingly eat a meal of her flesh. Some are less cruel and more bittersweet and this one is no exception. You will be shedding tears by the end. However, it’s well paced, exciting, takes time to breath, and is easy enough to follow.
Laika is a very good animation studio whose work I have not seen. Well, that’s not true. I have seen two films they’ve been involved with. Those being Corpse Bride and Coraline. However, I’ve never gone out to see any of their work since then for no reason whatsoever. They’ve just slipped under my radar sadly, though I have been meaning to watch Paranorman. The various ways they use the stop motion to create this world is amazing: giant waves, swirling leaves, the magic effects, it all looks so well done. This is a beautifully animated work and if it’s not at least nominated for Best Animated Feature, I will bite someone’s head off.
The voice acting, also good. The main roles are all played by white celebrities for some reason, but for the rest, they got a lot of Asian-American actors. They even got George Takei. Anything with George Takei is instantly 20% cooler (apologizes for the obligatory pony joke). All the voice actors are excellent, Kubo sounds like a twelve year old, and considering his actor is 14 that’s not hard, the mother is loving yet stern, the aunts are creepy, and The Moon King is cold, stubborn, but capable of pulling off the kind old grandfather mode. No problem in the sound department from me.
Kubo is a joy to watch. There’s action, drama, some comedy, and at times it’ll make you cry. In the end, it’s about family and the people you’ve lost. Just like Obon, it’s about remembering them and honouring them. After all, they never really leave us. It’s left theatres by now, but you should definitely get it when it comes out on DVD.
Now onto the Western.