August 25, 2016 -- This stop-motion animated is thematically similar to Japanese animated films. Although set in ancient Japan and the story is all about Japanese beliefs and mythology, it is an American film. It is a good film, but more than that, it is radically different than most Western animated films in terms of appearance and world view.
This film reminded me a bit of the famous Japanese animated film “Princess Mononoke.” Like that story, this story is about wounded people, afflicted by greed, jealousy and hatred. The world in which this story is set is a world of magic, a world in which the dead and the living communicate with each other, and in which the dead seemingly come back to life in the guise of other creatures.
This is a strange story, not so strange in terms of the Oriental world view perhaps, but very strange from the standpoint of Western views and traditions. I found it a bit hard to relate to, being from the West, harder to relate to than a number of Japanese animated films I've seen. The film is directed by Travis Knight (“Coraline,” “The Boxtrolls” and “ParaNorman”).
Kubo, the main character, is a child on the run from the Moon King and his mother's evil sisters, who all command powerful magic. Kubo, who has magical powers of his own, lives in a remote cave with his mother, who is in a trance-like state all day, but is active at night. Kubo is forbidden to leave the cave at night for fear of the Moon King and those evil sisters, who are out to get him.
One day, however, Kubo stays out too late and is discovered by the evil sisters, who try to capture him, but Kubo's mother rescues him by attacking her sisters, killing one of them. His mother dies during the battle, leaving Kubo on his own, except for a monkey charm his mother gave him, which comes to life, and a magic origami samurai he created himself. Kubo, the monkey, the tiny paper samurai and a large friendly insect-like samurai they encounter, all embark on a quest for a magic sword, helmet and armor. These are things which can protect Kubo from the Moon King.
If this sounds complicated, this is actually a simplified version of the story, which gets a lot more complicated when Kubo finally learns who the monkey and insect samurai really are, and when he fights the Moon King and learns who the Moon King really is. It sort of makes sense when you see the film. At least the story does have some points to make.
The stop motion animation and the 3D effects are very good. The look of the film is also very artistic and imaginative. I don't think this movie has been released yet in Japan, but I think it will do very well there, and in some other Asian countries. It is doing all right in America, but I think overseas is where it will really shine. It is a good film, and different, too. How good it is, I suspect depends on how much value you place on the fact that it is different from most other American films. This film rates a B.
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