Monday, November 21, 2016

Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo and the Two Strings (dir. Travis Knight, 2016) is a wonderful work of film animation. Using stop action photography, origami, and digital effects, it creates a beautiful and compelling world. It was a pleasure to watch from beginning to end. The one weakness in the story was the story itself. It didn't always abide by an internal logic. There were questions one needed to ask about why certain characters did certain things. But perhaps I’m being too much of an adult and should not be asking those questions. Perhaps i should just enjoy the film. And I certainly did enjoy it. It's probably the best animated film I've ever seen. It gave me great pleasure; it was a wonderful fantasy; the music was compelling; the technology that went into the making of the film was incredible. The film was a work of great talent and imagination.

The two strings of the title refer to a three-stringed instrument, the shamisen, that the main character Kubo carries with him everywhere he goes. Even as a young boy we’re given to understand that he's a master of storytelling, and when he plays his instrument, origami paper figures that he's devised come to life and act out the story. Perhaps his parentage-- his mother was a deity and a great magician and his father a samurai warrior--explains his talent. This great work of film imagination is itself about imagination and about storytelling.

Obviously, Kubo tells a Japanese story. The characters are Japanese, the visual style of the movie is Japanese, the mythological characters named in the film are at least Japanese in nature if not in fact. I saw few Japanese names among the film credits. Several Japanese actors voiced important characters (one of them was George Takei, who played Capt. Sulu in the original Star Trek series). There were random names here and there of Japanese people who served various roles on the production staff. Frequently these names belonged to people who worked as apprentices. Does the absence of many Japanese names mean the film is inauthentic? Director Knight insists, with the support of the two Japanese actors, that the film tells a Japanese story. Not really. It's a film made by an American group of actors and filmmakers about Japanese characters set in Japan.  They’ve made it with what I would describe as sensitivity and respect and considerable background research. As long as we don't go too far in making claims about what this film is and what it isn't, I'm okay with that.

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