Kubo & The Two Strings is an animated fantasy movie starring Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Art Parkinson, Ralph Fiennes, Rooney Mara, George Takei, Brenda Vaccaro, and Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa. It's probably one of my favorite films of the year.
Young Kubo (Parkinson) lives with his mother (Theron) on a mountain overlooking a village. Every day he goes down to the village to tell stories for money, but he does that with the help of magic - when he plays his shamisen, he can fold paper into characters and make them move and act out the stories. Everyone in the village kind of takes the magic as read, but they're amazed with his storytelling (except that he loses track of time and can't end the stories). His mother warns him to always be inside before the sun sets, lest the Moon King, his grandfather, find him and steal his other eye.
So right away we're dealing with some pretty high-level magical realism, here, which of course makes me happy, but then Kubo does stay out late, and his creepy-ass aunts (Mara) show up to collect him. His mother gives her life to send him away to the Far Lands and animate his Monkey charm (also voiced by Theron) to guide him in finding the armor that will let him stand up to his grandfather. Along the way they pick up Beetle (McConaughey), a cursed samurai who's convinced he served under Kubo's father.
The movie is pretty brutal. It turns out Monkey is really Kubo's mother and Beetle is really his father, but neither of them live long after those revelations come out. Kubo's mother, as it happens, was a celestial being sent to kill his father, but who fell in love with him instead. Kubo is forced to confront his grandfather alone, and tries to kill him with the weapons he's found, but ultimately chooses to give his grandfather the same gift his father gave his mother - humanity. The closing scene where the villagers tell Kubo's now-human grandfather "his story" chokes me up every time, not least because it's really damn Promethean, in a way.
The movie is visually amazing (Laika doesn't always hit home runs, but this one sure is). I think it might have been nice to have a few more Japanese people in the cast, especially the principle cast, but overall the movie feels pretty respectful to the source material (although I'm hardly the one to make that call). The cover of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" by Regina Spector over the end credits is likewise perfect.
This movie probably won't beat Moana for Best Animated Feature on Sunday, but I dunno, I think it's got my vote.
My Grade: A
Rewatch value: High
Next up: Mallrats