It’s not every day that you see the hero of what is expected to be a blockbuster movie wielding a stringed instrument as his weapon against evil, but that is the premise of the new animated film called Kubo and the Two Strings set to open August 19th in the United States. The 3D stop-motion animated feature film produced by Laika Entertainment is receiving stellar reviews, and is poised to become a late summer hit, challenging the competition for the best animated film of 2016.
In a society where string instruments are seen by some as old-fashioned and fuddy-duddy, Kubo and the Two Strings could instill a new passion for folk music as kids young and old trade in their light sabres and Superman capes for banjos and cigar box chordophones to emulate the movie’s main character.
Kubo and the Two Strings is set in ancient Japan, and follows the young Kubo as he tries to care for his sick mother, and hunt down a magical suit of armor once worn by his Samurai father to help protect him against an age-old vendetta from his grandfather. Kubo’s power comes from a two-string shamisen—which is roughly the Japanese equivalent of a banjo, with strings pulled over a long neck, and a hollow, resonant body resembling a drum with a skin stretched over it. Most shamisen—also called sagen or a Japanese lute—have three strings. They are used in Japanese folk music, just like the banjo is used in American folk music.
As Ashley Oh explains writing for Polygon, “When Kubo goes into town to perform his mother’s stories using his shamisen, the sound of the strings breathes life into inanimate objects, bending and shaping them to his every whim. Sheets of origami paper intricately fold themselves into samurai and creatures of folklore to illustrate stories that puppets and words could never capture.”
Later Kubo uses his magical shamisen in battle.
Starring in the film are Charlize Theron, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Marra, George Takei, and Matthew David McConaughey. Laika Entertainment has also released the successful and critically-acclaimed stop-motion animated films Coraline and ParaNorman. Kubo and the Two Strings is said to be just as enjoyable for children as it is adults, if the dark nature of the film isn’t a bit scary for young children.
Kubo and the Two Strings will probably not be the second coming of O Brother Where Art Thou, but it is cool to see a major character of a highly-anticipated film symbolizing the power of music to uplift the spirit, stimulate the imagination, and push back the forces of opposition as it has done for folk musicians and rural people all around the world for eons.