Kubo and the Two Strings
Kubo and the Two Strings is a 2016 American stop-motion action fantasy film directed and produced by Travis Knight (in his directorial debut). It stars the voices of Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, and Matthew McConaughey. It is the fourth feature film produced by Laika. The film revolves around Kubo, a young boy who wields a magical shamisen (a Japanese stringed instrument) and whose left eye was stolen during infancy. Accompanied by an anthropomorphic snow monkey and beetle, he must subdue his mother's corrupted Sisters and his power-hungry grandfather Raiden (The Moon King), who is responsible for stealing his left eye.
|Kubo and the Two Strings|
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Travis Knight|
|Music by||Dario Marianelli|
|Edited by||Christopher Murrie|
|Distributed by||Focus Features|
|Box office||$77.5 million|
Kubo premiered at Melbourne International Film Festival and was released by Focus Features in the United States on August 19 to critical acclaim and grossed $77 million worldwide against a budget of $60 million. The film won the BAFTA Award for Best Animated Film at the 70th British Academy Film Awards and at the 89th Academy Awards, the film was nominated for Best Animated Feature Film and Best Visual Effects, becoming the second animated film ever to be nominated in the latter category following 1993's The Nightmare Before Christmas, and the first film to be nominated for both.
In feudal Japan, 12-year-old Kubo tends to his mother Sariatu, earning their living by magically manipulating origami with music from his shamisen for the nearby villagers. He tells the tale of his deceased father Hanzo, a samurai warrior, but is never able to finish his story as he does not know how Hanzo died, and his mother herself cannot recall as her mental state deteriorates. Sariatu warns Kubo not to stay out after dark as her sisters, Karasu and Washi, and his estranged grandfather the Moon King, who took Kubo's eye when he was a baby, will find him and take his remaining eye.
At the village's Bon Festival, where the townsfolk can speak to deceased loved ones, Kubo is angry when Hanzo does not appear, and forgets to return home before sunset. Karasu and Washi attack him, but Sariatu fights them off by magically strumming the dropped shamisen. Using her magic to animate the stag beetle pattern on the back of Kubo's robe, it sprouts wings to fly him far away and tells him to find his father's armor. Kubo reaches desperately out to her, but only accidentally pulls a single strand of hair in his hand. He witnesses the three sisters activate their magic and charge at each other, releasing a blast of energy.
Kubo awakens in a distant blizzard to find Monkey, his wooden Japanese macaque charm, has come to life; she sounds oddly similar to Sariatu. Guiding him to shelter inside the corpse of a whale, Monkey tells Kubo that Sariatu is gone, used the last of her magic to save him and bring Monkey back to life, and the village has been destroyed. Seeing Sariatu's hair strand, she twists it into a simple braid and ties it around Kubo's wrist as a bracelet in her memory. With the help of "Little Hanzo", an origami figure based on Hanzo, they set out to find the armor, and meet Beetle, an amnesiac samurai cursed to take the form of a humanoid stag beetle who believes himself to have been Hanzo's apprentice. Proving himself to be a skilled archer, he quickly pledges his strength and bow to Kubo's quest.
Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle find the "Sword Unbreakable" in the Hall of Bones, and defeat a Gashadokuro to escape with the sword. Crossing the Long Lake in a leaf boat to locate the "Breastplate Impenetrable" deep underwater, Kubo and Beetle swim down and encounter a sea monster, the "Garden of Eyes", which entrances victims with its many eyes. Kubo is caught in the creature's sight, and realizes that Monkey is the reincarnated spirit of his mother. Beetle rescues Kubo and retrieves the Breastplate, and they return to the boat to find Monkey has been wounded fighting and killing Karasu.
Recovering on shore, Monkey explains that she and her sisters were ordered by the Moon King to kill Hanzo, but she instead fell in love with him, and the Moon King branded her an enemy. Monkey reveals that the Moon King wishes to make Kubo like him by taking away his humanity. That night, Kubo dreams of meeting Raiden, a blind elderly man who points him to the "Helmet Invulnerable" in Hanzo's abandoned fortress. They reach the fortress, realizing too late it is a trap set by the Moon King and Washi, who reveals that Beetle is Hanzo, whom she and Karasu cursed for taking Sariatu away from them. Beetle is killed and Monkey sacrifices herself to buy Kubo time to use his shamisen to defeat Washi, breaking two of his three strings. Little Hanzo provides insight that the Helmet is actually the village bell, and Kubo breaks his last string to transport himself there.
At the village, Kubo meets Raiden, who is revealed to be the Moon King. He offers to take Kubo's other eye to make him immortal, but Kubo refuses, and Raiden transforms into a giant Dunkleosteus-like dragon, the Moon Beast, and pursues Kubo and the remaining villagers into the cemetery. When Hanzo's armor proves ineffective, Kubo removes it and restrings his shamisen using his mother's hair, his father's bowstring, and his own lock of hair. With the instrument, he summons the spirits of the villagers' loved ones, who show the Moon Beast that memories are the strongest magic of all and can never be destroyed.
Kubo and the spirits' magic strip the Moon Beast of his powers, leaving him a mortal human without any memories. Inspired by Kubo's stories, the villagers take compassion and tell Raiden he was a man of many positive traits, accepting him into the village. Kubo is able to speak to his parents' spirits during the subsequent Bon ceremony, as they watch the deceased villagers' lanterns transform into golden herons and fly to the spirit world.
- Art Parkinson as Kubo, the main protagonist of the story.
- Charlize Theron as Monkey/Sariatu, Kubo's mother and one of the Moon King's daughters, reincarnated in a little Japanese snow monkey charm, known as Monkey, after she is killed by her Sisters.
- Matthew McConaughey as Beetle/Hanzo, Kubo's father, who was transformed by the Sisters into a beetle-like hybrid with no recollection of his true identity, believing himself to be Hanzo's apprentice.
- Ralph Fiennes as Raiden/Moon King, Kubo's grandfather, the Sisters and Sariatu's father and the main antagonist of the story.
- Rooney Mara as The Sisters (Karasu and Washi), Kubo's evil aunts, Sariatu's younger sisters, and the Moon King's twin daughters.
- George Takei as Hosato, a villager who teaches his daughter their Japanese culture and traditions.
- Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa as Hashi, a villager and Kubo's biggest fan.
- Brenda Vaccaro as Kameyo, a villager and an elderly but young-hearted widow who is a grandmother-figure to Kubo.
- Meyrick Murphy as Mari
- Minae Noji as Minae
- Alpha Takahashi as Aiko
- Laura Miro as Miho
- Ken Takemoto as Ken
Announced in December 2014, the project is the directoral debut of Laika's CEO Travis Knight. Laika's production designer Shannon Tindle pitched the story to Knight as a "stop-motion samurai epic". Although the studio had never ventured into the genre before, Knight was enthusiastic about the project; owing partly his affinity towards both the "epic fantasy" genre as well as Japanese culture in general.
The art took inspiration from such Japanese mediums as ink wash painting and origami among others. A particular influence came from the ukiyo-e wood block style, with Laika intending to make the entire film "to look and feel as if it's a moving woodblock print" Assistance came from 3D printing firm Stratasys who allowed Laika to use their newest technologies in exchange for feedback on them. Knight mentioned that the story for the film was partly inspired by works of Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki.
For the Skeleton monster the team created a giant 16-foot (4.9m), 400-pound (180 kg) puppet, which Laika claims is the record holder for largest stop-motion puppet. The idea to make such a massive puppet was born out of a fear that individual smaller parts (meant to represent the larger monster) would not work well on screen interacting with the other puppets. The resulting puppet was built in two parts which were then attached together by magnets. For movement Laika had to design a robot to easily manipulate it. The team at one point purchased an industrial robot from eBay but found that it would not work with their setup.
|Kubo and the Two Strings|
|Soundtrack album by|
|Released||August 5, 2016|
|Label||Warner Bros. Records|
|Laika film soundtrack chronology|
|Dario Marianelli chronology|
|1.||"The Impossible Waves"||2:37|
|2.||"Kubo Goes to Town"||1:25|
|5.||"Meet the Sisters!"||2:22|
|7.||"The Giant Skeleton"||3:30|
|8.||"The Leafy Galleon"||4:36|
|9.||"Above and Below"||3:59|
|10.||"The Galleon Restored"||1:06|
|14.||"Showdown with Grandfather"||7:04|
|16.||"While My Guitar Gently Weeps" (Regina Spektor)||5:23|
Kubo and the Two Strings grossed $48 million in North America and $29.5 million in other territories for a worldwide total of $77.5 million, against a budget of $60 million.
In the United States, the film was released on August 19, 2016, alongside Ben-Hur and War Dogs, and was projected to gross $12–15 million from 3,260 theaters in its opening weekend. It made $515,000 from its Thursday night previews and $4.1 million on its first day. It went on to gross $12.6 million in its opening weekend, finishing 4th at the box office.
Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 97% based on reviews from 211 critics, with an average rating of 8.39/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Kubo and the Two Strings matches its incredible animation with an absorbing—and bravely melancholy—story that has something to offer audiences of all ages." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 84 out of 100, based on 38 critics, indicating "universal acclaim". Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale, while PostTrak reported filmgoers gave it an 85% overall positive score and a 63% "definite recommend".
Christy Lemire of RogerEbert.com awarded the film 3.5 stars out of 4, saying that "one of the most impressive elements of Kubo and the Two Strings—besides its dazzling stop-motion animation, its powerful performances and its transporting score—is the amount of credit it gives its audience, particularly its younger viewers." IGN's Samantha Ladwig gave the film 7.5/10, stating that the film is "Dark, twisted, and occasionally scary, but also with humor, love, and inspiration." Jesse Hassenger, of The A.V. Club, praised the film, saying that "no American animation studio is better-suited to dreamlike plotting than Laika, and the animation of Kubo is truly dazzling, mixing sophistication and handmade charm with inspired flow."
Michael O'Sullivan of The Washington Post gave the film 4/4 stars, stating that the film is "both extraordinarily original and extraordinarily complex, even for a grown-up movie masquerading as a kiddie cartoon (which it kind of is)." In The New York Times, Glenn Kenny said that "the movie's blend of stop-motion animation for the main action with computer-generated backgrounds is seamless, creating what is the most visually intoxicating of all Laika's movies." Peter Debruge of Variety wrote that ""Kubo" offers another ominous mission for a lucky young misfit, this one a dark, yet thrilling adventure quest that stands as the crowning achievement in Laika's already impressive oeuvre."
While the film received critical acclaim for its craft and story, it was criticized for its perceived whitewashing as a movie set in ancient Japan but featuring a centrally white cast. George Takei and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa were the only actors of Asian descent playing the role of minor characters.
At the 89th Academy Awards, Kubo and the Two Strings was nominated for two awards, Best Animated Feature and Best Visual Effects, but lost to two Disney films respectively: Zootopia and The Jungle Book.
Kubo and the Two Strings was released on DVD, Blu-ray, and digital media on November 22, 2016.
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