Laika is a movie studio that has been around for over a decade now, focusing on stop-motion features such as Coraline or The Boxtrolls. This is actually my first movie of any of Laika’s works. The trailer originally piqued my interest with its incredible rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and the somewhat-vague-yet-magically-involved premise.
Spoilers to follow.
The film features a young boy named Kubo, who lives alone in a mountain cavern with his mother. He wanders in town as a music-playing storyteller who has the amazing ability of papercraft – he can manipulate paper however he likes when he plays his shamisen (think of it as Japanese guitar). He changes the paper into origami to tell his wonderous adventures of a samurai named Hanzo, who fought strange and powerful beasts, and attained three magical pieces of armor in order to defeat the Moon King.
However, the fiction becomes fact – Hanzo is Kubo’s father, and Kubo and his mother are out on the lam, hiding from his twin aunts and grandfather, who plot to take Kubo’s remaining eye (his grandfather had already taken one of his eyes as a child). He only works in town during the day – to stay out at night is to risk being found by his mother’s sisters.
Of course, over the course of the movie, he doesn’t stay hidden for long, unfortunately due to his own mistake. This causes his aunts to find him and his mother to sacrifice her life to save him. However, she leaves him protection in the form of a monkey, who tells him that he must obtain the three legendary pieces of armor his father once owned in order to have the power to protect himself.
What starts as what is essentially a treasure hunt becomes a story of love, reunion, loss, and growth. Despite its humor, this is a sad story. Kubo suffers greatly throughout his adventure, but becomes stronger despite his losses. He is forced to move on, regardless of what tragic circumstances have occurred, in order to prevent his grandfather and aunts from getting what they want.
Despite the impressive trailer, I kept my expectations low for this one. Perhaps it was a good thing – my friends, who I had watched the film with, told me they had extremely high expectations for this movie and were left somewhat disappointed. On the other hand, I was left pleasantly impressed by the well-told story and the pleasing visuals. I’d personally say this was a great movie – just keep your expectations low.