* Spoilers alert.
Kubo and the Two Strings is about a boy named Kubo who has the power to manipulate paper as he pleases. His left eye was stolen by his grandfather, the Moon King, when he was a baby and he lives in solitude with his ill mother, who also has magical powers. Kubo is not allowed to go out at night because his aunts/grandfather will steal his other eye, but we all know the night he stays out is the night this story begins.
Kubo and the Two Strings has beautiful animation fitting for its setting in Japan and has cool stop-motion scenes as well. Being a movie made for children, it had a basic and semi-predictable plot but it still incorporated great storytelling elements, which is one of the themes this movie focuses on.
If you must blink do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see and hear no matter how unusual it may seem.
Your story will never end. It will be told by him and the people he shares it with and the people they share it with and..
Everyday, Kubo goes to the village to perform a storytelling show with his origami papers and a musical instrument. His storytelling is basically a retelling of the stories his mom tells him when she is awake. It’s a story of a great hero finding powerful pieces of armour and weapons and ultimately fighting an antagonist.
Of course, Kubo becomes the main character to this story as he embarks on the adventure to find these items after he stays out too late one night. I suppose one reason why the plot seemed so predictable to me (aside from it being intended for a younger audience) was because it was already mentioned or alluded to earlier in the film. This is actually a prime example of effective story-telling, because the audience understands what is going on and there are no loose ends left in the end. This doesn’t necessarily mean the story is boring or the ending is given away – when something unexpected happens in Kubo and the Two Strings, I immediately knew how it connected and I even thought, “How could you have missed that, Loewe?”
Family and Compassion
There are two very different portrayals of family. At the beginning of the film, we learn that Kubo’s father, a famous samurai, died protecting him, and Kubo’s mother tries her best to keep him safe. Kubo himself is constantly caring for his mother and curious about his father – what kind of a person was he like when he wasn’t in battle?
On the other hand, the man who stole Kubo’s eye is his grandfather and the ones who try to hunt him down are his mother’s sisters. When Kubo asks his mother if his grandfather hates him, she says:
He wants you just like him—blind to humanity.
It is an uncommon theme in children movies to have the antagonist be a family member. This teaches children that sometimes families can have differing views, and in the case of this tearing a family apart, sometimes you have to go with what you believe is right.
Forget your story?
Memories are a powerful thing.
One scene I really enjoyed was the ending, where the Moon King loses to Kubo in a battle and has his memories completely wiped. After destroying a village and trying to kill Kubo in front of all the villagers, the Moon King innocently looks around and asks if anybody can tell him what his story is because he has forgotten it. Slowly, the villagers come up to him one by one and lie. They tell him, “You are a kind person”, “You love your grandson very much”, “You taught my kids how to swim”, or “You donate money to the poor”. Of course, these things never happened, but the Moon King believes he is a beneficent person and in so forth, also becomes one.
These scene reveals once again that everybody has a story, and depending on what the story is or how you tell it, everything can change. People can always start a new story or become a new person if you let them, and I think that is a very beautiful thing.