Review of Kubo and the Two Strings: Storytelling and Religion
The film Kubo and the Two Strings, released on August 19, 2016, tells the story of Kubo, a boy whose magical gift for music and origami enables him to tell vivid adventure stories and, eventually, gives him the requisite skills to go on a quest of his own.
Kubo is Laika Entertainment Company’s fourth film, all of which have masterfully used stop-motion animation. The studio’s previous work has culminated in Kubo’s unique hybrid of stop-motion and CGI—a visually impressive combination of origami, puppetry, interchangeable pieces made with 3D printers and animatronics that all contribute to an exceptionally engaging film. These components allow the creators to have much of the precision associated with modern animated features while still retaining the warmth and texture of stop-motion.
Set in a fantastical medieval Japan, the film has strong Buddhist themes, including facets of Buddhist philosophy, festivals, traditions and ancestor veneration. While this aspect of the film might trouble Seventh-day Adventist viewers, especially concerning the doctrine of the state of the dead, Kubo is still a movie worthy of engagement. Treat the film as an enjoyable opportunity to learn more about some basic themes of Buddhism and take mental notes about ideas you disagree with or find troubling in order to study them later. Perhaps most importantly, take the time to notice the many points of intersection between Christianity and Kubo’s depiction of Buddhism.
Kubo bravely focuses on the idea that suffering and loss are unavoidable parts of life that often serve as catalysts for personal growth. While Seventh-day Adventists believe that this period of suffering and loss is only for a time, that doesn’t make the pain any less real. Throughout the film Kubo learns to deal with loss, learns the importance of remembering people that are dear to him and comes to understand the art of storytelling as a celebration of significant people, events, and ideas. While this thought may have specific impact within Buddhism, Christians can learn from it and relate to it as well. As Seventh-day Adventists in particular we find that remembering the story of our people, our ideological ancestors, is important practice for understanding our current situation.
Even more relatable, the film puts a high value on family and the importance of redemption. It ultimately concludes that storytelling, both the stories that we tell about ourselves and those others tell about us, form an integral part of our characters. This is an empowering idea that has particular implications for church communities, which call for members to affirm each other but frequently fall short of that ideal.
Kubo and the Two Strings is visually and narratively stunning as well as philosophically potent. By focusing on the importance of family, the treasure of memory and the inescapable nature of suffering, the film adds weight to its visual appeal. Kubo conveys that not only does every person have the power to tell their own story, but that this act is meaningful and has practical consequences, which is a message that everyone should hear.