This review was not written by me, it was written by my good friend Yaseen Fawzi. I wanted to share some of his reviews by posting them on my website. All credit goes to him, not me. He writes a lot of great reviews and this is yet another one 🙂 I am aware that Kubo came out in August (this is now September), but this is a great review. Here is Yaseen’s review of Kubo and the Two Strings below:
Kubo and the Two Strings
August 20, 2016
Kubo and the Two Strings is the new animated film from the acclaimed stop-motion house LAIKA. In ancient Japan, young Kubo, whose late father was a master samurai, lives with his mother and tells stories to the civilians of his town by the seashore by summoning to life origami figures, wielding a magical three-stringed instrument called a shamisen. However, he inadvertently summons his grandfather, the vengeful Moon King, who snatched Kubo’s left eye and calls upon the equally sinister twin Sisters to steal the other one. Aided by Beetle, an insect-samurai hybrid, and the wise Monkey, Kubo goes on a journey to retrieve his late father’s three pieces of armor that will prove impenetrable against the Moon King.
Directed by LAIKA CEO/animator Travis Knight, the film features a small but exemplary voice cast, which despite coming across as being mostly Western in an Asian setting, elevates the material. Matthew McConaughey provides a light touch of humor as Beetle, while Charlize Theron conveys subtlety and nuance as Monkey. Behind the Noh masks they wear, the twin Sisters hide a hypnotic and threatening presence, and equally as haunting is the sultry voice of Rooney Mara. Art Parkinson captures that delicate balance between innocence and bravery as Kubo, and Ralph Fiennes savors every single moment in his vocal portrayal of Raiden the Moon King. The cast is rounded out by supporting players George Takei, Cary Hiroyuki-Tarawa, and Brenda Vaccaro.
The storytelling methods prevalent in Kubo are structured as a loving tribute to the stories of ancient Japanese culture, along with greater influence from anime and the films of Akira Kurosawa. Kubo faces great dangers during his quest than he has ever known, causing him to show greater responsibility as he discovers who he really is. This Japanese influence is also most evident in the photography by Frank Passingham, which very much resembles the establishing shots and overall mise-en-scene of Kurosawa. Every single detail in the set pieces, from the exteriors of the dojos, lush oceans, and sweeping mountains to the tiniest rocks and foliage, makes them the equivalent of Impressionist and Japanese paintings combined.
With every new film LAIKA makes, the stop-motion models become much more diverse, as Kubo, Beetle, and the village civilians are designed with Japanese facial aesthetics in mind. The animation itself, including the magical origami and a large skeleton obstacle with swords on its head, is so lifelike that it is comparable to the works of George Pal and Ray Harryhausen, except on a much larger scale. There are certain moments when you forget you are watching stop-motion figures, especially in the quieter scenes of interaction between Kubo, Beetle, and Monkey. Although the fight sequences are admirably choreographed and well-animated, they are much too short to inspire anything of greater substance. The soundtrack by Dario Marianelli is filled to the brim with East Asian woodwinds and shamisen, adding to the thematic prowess of Kubo’s journey.
With its respectable cultural awareness and ode to ancient Japan, Kubo and the Two Strings represents another milestone in LAIKA’s small but acclaimed output.
* * * 1/2 (Out of * * * *) “Ya-stars”