My Japanese mother married my Caucasion father in the early 1950s. Back then, she bought into the idea of immigrant assimilation so completely, she never bothered speaking her native language around her sons. I grew up as an English-language speaker, and the only second language I learned, somewhat poorly, turned out to be German.
However, she showered me with books from a very young age. Some of these books include lavishly illustrated child’s versions of Japanese mythology — all written or translated to English, of course. I spent hours reading these books, which may have given me an early nudge towards the fantasy and science fiction I read to this day. The illustrations were amazing, and I read about the Sun Goddess, Ameterasu, and how she installed her grandson as ruler of the physical world, and how she gave him the three treasures: the sword, the mirror, and the jewel. I read of the Kitsune and the Tanuki. To this day, I look at racoons as maybe more than just simple animals.
So when I saw the trailers for Kubo and the Two Strings, I had to see it. Jan and I went to see it on a Saturday afternoon, and both of us came away deeply impressed. While the story borrows visually from the Japanese mythology and folk tales I read as a kid, the story of Kubo stands on its own. It’s funny and sad, victorious and tragic, mystical and practical, imbued into an an uncommonly good story, with gorgeous visuals and art direction.
When first announced, Kubo generated some controversy due to casting Caucasian voice actors for the lead roles. In practice, I had no problem with the voice acting… except for the Beetle character. As good an actor as Matthew McConaughey can be, his gentle drawl seemed utterly out of place.
Even with that bit of miscasting, Kubo took me back to my ten-year-old self briefly, reliving that sense of wonder and enchantment that enthralled me as I paged through those richly illustrated tales of an imaginary Japan. Kudos to Kubo, and kudos to Laika for the courage to make a heartfelt and extraordinary film.