In ancient Japan, young Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a storyteller. He spellbinds a crowd daily with tales of adventure and tragedy using origami and a magical instrument, barely making a living for his near-bedridden mother and himself. At the climax of each day’s story, he promises to deliver the ending the following day, keeping his audience transifxed with his artistry. It’s with a similar visual expertise Kubo and the Two Strings is brought to the screen, painstakingly and breathtakingly brought to life in both moments of (stunningly kinetic) action and calm through stop-motion animation. It’s as intricate and simplistically beautiful as a piece of origami.
But Kubo‘s emotional journey is just as stunning as its visual one. Accidentally summoning the spirits of his evil aunts (both voiced by Rooney Mara), he loses his mother. His past comes searching for him, forcing him to go on the run, solving the mystery of his father’s death and his family’s exile. He’s joined by the no-nonsense Monkey (Charlize Theron) and clueless Beetle (Matthew McConaughey). It’s along the way, with both humour and pain, that it becomes clear his past is the greatest story to be told. His tales are memories of his own, passed on by his mother and internalised forevermore to tell stories of love and loss, their warmth comforting in moments of sadness and pain, and can never be taken away. It’s a quiet realisation, one slowly conjured up by the beautiful but subtle images conjured up by first-time director Travis Knight and Laika’s expert creatives who expressively bring the characters to life, and the delicate (sometimes a little to sparse) writing by scribes Marc Haimes and Chris Butler. By the time the true emotional weight of the film is revealed, with a character uttering “You are my quest. You always have been,”, Kubo will have long worked its enchanting spell. One remembers a line from Monsieur Lazhar that speaks to the power of the memory of a loved one -“the dead stay in our heads because we loved them”. They are the stories that make us who we are.