“If you must blink, do it now.” These are the opening words of Kubo and the Two Strings, the latest stop-motion marvel from animation studio LAIKA. It also serves as poignant harbinger for the audience, because chances are that over the course of Kubo‘s mesmerizing running time, you will find your eye sockets – and probably mouth as well – permanently agape at the wonder on display here.
Travis Knight, LAIKA’s CEO and lead animator on their impressive previous features (Coraline, Paranorman, Boxtrolls), takes the directing reins himself for this one. And its fitting that “the boss” is actually behind this, as Kubo is the best thing the studio has ever done; an incredible mythological adventure filled with as much heart and character as there is technical brilliance in its eye-popping stop-motion visuals.
The eponymous Kubo (Art Parkinson) is a young boy who lives with his mother in a vertiginous cave next to a small Japanese fishing village. Kubo spends his days caring for his mom, who drifts in and out of lucidity, never able to hold onto memories. Her brain-addled state is a side effect of a violent injury she endured years earlier – shown in the film’s wowing opening moments – as she used magical abilities to escape her vindictive family with baby Kubo. The now grown-up son has inherited his mother’s magical gifts, able to bring origami paper creations to life with a strum on his shamisen (a traditional three-string Japanese lute). He uses this gift to procure food and money by telling fantastical stories, aided by origami actors, in the local village, much to the delight of its inhabitants.