Film review: Kubo and the Two Strings is stop-motion magic
With its gorgeous landscapes inspired by Japanese woodblock art and with such obvious love and respect for its cultural milieu, this animation is a delight from start to finish
Following the success of Coraline, ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls, stop-motion giant Laika tackles full-blown fantasy in Kubo and the Two Strings, the epic story of an orphaned boy with magical powers, pursued by supernatural forces through feudal Japan.
Marking the directorial debut of Laika CEO and self-confessed Japanophile Travis Knight (son of Nike founder Phil Knight), the film draws reverently from the work of Kurosawa and Miyazaki, while rendering gorgeous landscapes and environments inspired by traditional woodblock printing.
Much like Knight and his stop-motion creations, Kubo (voiced by Games of Thrones star Art Parkinson) wields an enchanted samisen to animate origami models into fantastical stories about his dead father, a once-legendary samurai. But when the fearsome Moon King (Ralph Fiennes) and his sorceress daughter (Rooney Mara) learn of his whereabouts, Kubo embarks on a quest to find a mythical suit of armour, accompanied by guardians Monkey (Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Matthew McConaughey).
Kubo and the Two Strings arrives in a contentious climate, where even unseen films such as The Great Wall and Doctor Strange are criticised for their insensitive handling of Asian culture. Admittedly the anachronistic dialogue and voice performances, while often compelling and humorous in their own right, do sit somewhat uncomfortably alongside the exotic Japanese aesthetic. There’s also an infuriatingly catchy cover of When My Guitar Gently Weeps by Russian songstress Regina Spektor.
And yet Laika should manage to sidestep such accusations, not least because it has created here a genuinely enchanting fable of extraordinary artistic merit, and clearly respectfully enamoured of its subject matter.
Kubo and the Two Strings opens on August 18
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