So I watched Kubo and the Two Strings…
I didn’t know much about this film going in. I’d absentmindedly watched a trailer once and vaguely remember a friend recommending it but I hadn’t made any real effort to see it. I think this worked in this film’s favour because – although I did enjoy it – if I knew now what I did before I watched it, I probably would have given it a miss.
Okay, basic plot: Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy living with his mother, Sariatu (Charlize Theron). Kubo tends to his mother whose memory is failing, and earns a living for the two of them by playing his shamisen in the local village. Kubo’s mother constantly warns him about staying out after dark because his grandfather – The Moon King, an evil god is intent on kidnapping Kubo and killing him like he did Kubo’s father. Although normally diligent to his mother’s warnings, Kubo strays one day and is forced onto a journey to find his father’s armour. Only equipped with this armour will Kubo be able to defeat his grandfather. Kubo is not alone in his fight and is joined by a half-beetle, half-man warrior (Matthew McConaughey) and a talking snow monkey named Monkey.
This film is a great throwback to the Asian cinema I grew up watching. Hero’s father is killed by villain. Hero has to avenge his father but first has to go on a quest to either learn a certain skill or find an object that will ensure victory. The core of this film is a tried and tested formula that’s bordering on cliche but the way the film wraps it up is what makes it truly entertaining and often original. Kubo has these magical powers which allow him to create origami figures. Doesn’t sound that useful in a fight at first but the film uses his abilities well. Furthermore this unique ability is unlike anything I’ve ever seen in film, at least nothing that I can remember. There’s nothing worse than watching a film and idly staring at the screen without a pang of excitement flowing through your body or a yelp of pleasure bursting out of your mouth. This is definitely a problem you won’t have watching this film.
Not only is the film’s story well-crafted and enjoyable, the voice actors behind the characters also do fantastic work. Art Parkinson is the standout as Kubo. He has that mischievous, arrogant swagger that you’d expect from a hero this young but also the fragility and uncertainty of a child. Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey do impressive work as Kubo’s sidekicks and are good for laugh, especially McConaughey who excels. I also have to commend director, Travis Knight and his production team for the high aesthetic value this film holds. It’s stop-motion animation and it looks absolutely wonderful. The textures and colours created by this animation style are incredible.
The film runs into trouble in its final act. Up to this point the movie sets itself up well as a classic quest of vengeance and survival. Kubo’s motivations are quite clear as are the motivations of the characters around him. We get to the climax, the final showdown and suddenly indecision creeps into Kubo’s actions. Most of them understandable but in the end, they just don’t seem to fit into how the character has been presented. The ending of the film suddenly becomes very PG when the events leading up to it were a hard PG-13. The film doesn’t deliver on what’s it promised you, almost as if it’s afraid to cross the line. It’s very difficult to explain without going into spoilers but the film loses its consistency, its logic and its heart.
The problems I had with this film seem to all lie with its ending. After sitting through the film’s disappointing ending, I went through my usual routine of researching the film for the purposes of this review. And guess what I found? This film is set in Japan with Japanese characters, however, almost half its cast is Caucasian. Art Parkinson, Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey, Rooney Mara, Ralph Fiennes. All as white as well…white people. If you scroll down the cast, you find some Asian actors so why could the supporting cast be Asian but not the main? This whitewashing invalidates all the enjoyment I had watching this film, furthermore it invalidates the movie’s quality overall.
Whitewashing in film is something I feel very strongly about and something I’m actively trying to avoid. I’m just glad that I didn’t pay to watch this film at the cinema, otherwise I would have been an active participant in funding discrimination. Now here’s an interesting question: is Kung Fu Panda a whitewashed film? It’s set in China, the characters are all Chinese, albeit Chinese animals; so should the cast have been made up of Asian actors? That’s one I can let slide because the characters were animals but technically speaking, it is a whitewashed film.
Overall, Kubo and the Two Strings is a racist product. If you’re going to create a piece of film set in a certain region, with characters from that region with a story that is heavily associated with that region then shouldn’t your film feature actors from said region? It’s a shame because this film is actually quite enjoyable but it’s whitewashed and I can’t stand for that 0/10