Thursday, September 8, 2016

Review : Kubo and The Two Strings (2016)

Photo Credit : United International Pictures Singapore

About the Movie
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Cast:  Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, and Ralph Fiennes, George Takei, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Brenda Vaccaro, with Rooney Mara, and Matthew McConaughey
Directed by: Travis Knight
Written by: Marc Haimes and Chris Butler
Rating: PG (Parental Guidance)

Kubo and the Two Strings is an epic action-adventure set in a fantastical Japan from acclaimed animation studio LAIKA. Clever, kindhearted Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson of Game of Thrones) ekes out a humble living, telling stories to the people of his seaside town including Hosato (George Takei), Akihiro (Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa) and Kameyo (Academy Award nominee Brenda Vaccaro). But his relatively quiet existence is shattered when he accidentally summons a spirit from his past which storms down from the heavens to enforce an age-old vendetta.

Now on the run, Kubo joins forces with Monkey (Academy Award winner Charlize Theron) and Beetle (Academy Award winner Matthew McConaughey), and sets out on a thrilling quest to save his family and solve the mystery of his fallen father, the greatest samurai warrior the world has ever known. With the help of his shamisen - a magical musical instrument – Kubo must battle gods and monsters, including the vengeful Moon King (Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes) and the evil twin Sisters (Academy Award nominee Rooney Mara) to unlock the secret of his legacy, reunite his family and fulfill his heroic destiny.

A little bit more about the story

It’s time to follow my own path. My name is Kubo, this is my story.

The story started in a dark stormy night with Sariatu in a small tiny boat trying to fight the gigantic waves to sail to safety, the wave breaks and destroyed the boat, Sariatu and baby Kubo was washed to shore.  They settled down and lived in a cave on top of a mountain, years gone by and Kubo has grown up.  Every day besides taking care of his catatonic mother he goes to the nearby village to tell stories with his magical origami and magical two-string shamisen (traditional Japanese three-stringed lute with a square body, played with a large plectrum).

Sariatu told Kubo about the family past, the reason they are running away form them, she has 3 strict rules for Kubo; always have his monkey charm with him, wear his dad Hanzo's robe and never to stay out after the sun goes down.  All these years he kept to these rules till one day, during the traditional Odon - a ceremony where family members communicate with deceased loved ones, he got caught up speaking to his deceased father and waiting for him to show himself and before he know it the sun went down.  Almost immediately dark mist and cloud formed, his twin evil aunts found him, its like when darkness falls Kubo lights up like a red beacon for all to see.

From that moment on, Kubo's misadventure begins, Sariatu met with misfortune while fighting off her evil sisters to protect Kubo but not before telling Kubo to search for Hazo's armour the Sword Unbreakable, the Breastplate Impenetrable and the Helmet Invulnerable; because these items will be able to protect Kubo from his grandfather.  She then used her last magic to send Kubo flying away from the danger.

In the next scene, Kubo was awaken by Monkey who was tasked by Sariatu to protect Kubo and accompany him on his journey to find the 3 artifacts.  They are later joined by a muted origami Samurai who is a mini version of Hanzo and a beetle-like hybrid who has no recollection of his past and identity but strongly believe that he is Hanzo's apprentice.

After many fights with monsters and gods they managed to gather the 2 pieces, still missing 1 piece which Kubo realized that it was all along under his nose all these years.  Returning to the now burnt down village, Kubo managed to gather the 3 piece and not a minute too soon too because his grandfather the Moon King found him.  After failing to persuade Kubo to return with him to the clan the Moon King was outraged and tried to kill Kubo.

Did he managed to succeed?  Well, I am not going to spoil the movie for you.

Our Review ( 4 out of 5 Stars)
Kubo and the Two Strings a 3D stop-motion (you know that kind of technology where the object is moved in small increments between individually photographed frames, creating the illusion of movement when the series of frames is played as a continuous sequence) fantasy action adventure animated movie brought to you by animation studio LAIKA, the studio behind The Boxtrolls.  For those that have watched The Boxtrolls, you would recall that the movie is dark and dull, not as colorful and chirpy as what you would expect for children's animation movie.  It is the same with this movie, there are dark shadows, evil mist, scary looking characters which may not be suitable for younger kids.  There are also a few destruction/battles/fighting scene that may seems too intense and heavy for younger audience.  We did hear a few kids cried out in fear in the theater so be warned first.  Let's look at a couple of them that I personally think sets the scary meter to near 10.

The Sisters, evil no doubt but they send chills down my spine every time they appear on screen, no thanks to the kabuki masks they wear and their evilish voice (especially when they call Kubo's name) and laughter.  Before I realized that there were wearing masks I thought people Moon Clan has expressionless face with black hole as eye and red lips, that will be super creepy right!  They were sent to kill their sister for betraying the family and to "bring the other eye to Grandfather".

Photo Credit

The evil Moon King, in his true form, looks like an alien worm from outer space or as what DinoBoy said "He's a giant ugly looking centipede" (sorry but no offence Moon King).  There are fighting scenes between Moon King and Kubo which can be visually stressful and scary for young kids.  I mean, look at this face... ugly no doubt but with mean looking incisors (I wonder why he has rabbit teeth lookalike front teeth), growling and screaming while trying to tear Kubo apart, all these scenes against a dark eerie night, I am already frowning just by thinking back at the scene.

Photo Credit

If you are like me who have a soft spot for ancient Japan with its houses in wooden frame and translucent paper as windows, with Japanese wearing their kimono or yukata, with sword wielding Samurai warriors, you probably would like this movie already.

If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see no matter how unusual it may seem. If you look away, even for an instant, then our hero will surely perish.

I love the marvelous work by LAIKA for the movie has no lack of the magnificent scenery.  Indeed as Kubo said "If you must blink, do it now" or don't blink at all for fear of missing any of the fine detail.which can be seen at the fighting scenes, the fur on Monkey's, close up shots of the Moon King in his true form and even the facial expression on Kubo when he repeats mockingly after Monkey "I encourage you not to die". We were seated near the movie screen (like 4th row from the front) and I could see every details, my eyes were practically all over the huge screen trying to take in the gorgeous visionary production.    You must keep your eyes peeled to the screen when the duo sets off in the snowy weather at the start of their quest.  This is when Kubo starts to discover how strong his magic is and are having fun with it with the shamisen and the origami papers.

Besides being a story about a boy's adventure and eventually becoming a hero to the village, there are deeper meaning in the movie plus some unexpected twists throughout the story.  A little bit of spoiler here, the "Two Strings" have a different meaning than you think, let's see if you can catch it after you have watched the movie.

It speaks of a boy's yearning of his father whom he has not met but heard many wonderful brave stories about.  It's about self discovery, Kubo wanted so much to be all that his father was but he soon realized that he is not and have to fight his battles his won ways.  It also teaches the importance of forgiveness, family, love and compassion.

This is a great movie to go with your older kids like 9 yrs old and above, who are also not afraid of darkness and evilness.  However, putting the dark and evil part aside, there are many light-hearted moments too, like the bickering between Kubo and Beetle or the brief disgruntled exchange of words between Kubo and Monkey (much like how your defiant tween would talk back at you HA!).  There are some crude jokes too which adds a little bit humour even during tense moments.  

Our 10 year old enjoyed the movie tremendously and I am so awed by the animation so yes I enjoyed it too.  The movie opens today in all major theaters, go grab you tickets now coz I just know it will be a great hit and tickets for the "hot" timing will be sold out pretty fast. 

Disclaimer : We were invited by United International Pictures (Singapore) to the preview screening of Kubo and the Two Strings, no other compensation were received. All opinions about the movie are 100% ours after watching it. All photos and movie trailers are duly credited.


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