What They Say:
From the acclaimed animation studio LAIKA (Coraline) comes an epic original action adventure featuring the voice talents of Academy Award® winners Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey! Kubo mesmerizes the people in his village with his magical gift for spinning wild tales with origami. When he accidentally summons an evil spirit seeking vengeance, Kubo is forced to go on a quest to solve the mystery of his fallen samurai father and his mystical weaponry, as well as discover his own magical powers.
Please note: We looked at the Blu-ray portion of this release as we do not have a 4K setup:
The audio presentation for this release is pretty solid as we get the Blu-ray itself with the 5.1 mix while also coming with French and Spanish language dubs that are in stereo at a lower encoding format. I’m definitely envious of the 4K release as it includes the Japanese dub track for it. The film is one that largely utilizes its mix well as it balances a good number of action sequences and sweeping moments with the smaller more dialogue-driven elements of it. When the action hits and things get moving, and certainly through the music, it’s quite strong in how it unfolds and works well. The quieter moments are clear and free of problems as they’re at a good level and you’re not straining to figure out what was said while the bigger moments don’t overwhelm but capture the right level of scale. It’s a really good mix that fits the material itself and there’s such great warmth at times to the dialogue that it draws you in easily.
Originally in theaters in 2016, the film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The film isn’t terribly long so the encoding has plenty of space to work with even with all the extras and that results in a gorgeous-looking release. The stop-motion animation really is taken up a few steps in the film itself with the designs of the characters and the settings and all of this detail and blending comes in beautifully throughout it. While some of its aesthetic choices may not be to my taste or anything, they’ve so captured the look and the design of the source material with the whole thing that it’s just pretty much as close to pristine as you can imagine. The really active areas of the film are just smooth and clean looking as it unfolds and you can really get into checking out the detail and what went into the production in the quieter ones when you have the chance to just soak it all up. It’s the kind of project that just looks so good in this format that I can’t imagine what a 4K version must look like.
The packaging for this edition comes in a really solid new steelbook that gives us both the Blu-ray release and the 4K release. This one goes for a darker approach than I care for in general but it has a great visual of the leading characters set against the black backdrop while placing lanterns at the bottom for lighting. The approach creates a proper eerie look overall but with some really neat strokes of color throughout that definitely hits a sweet spot. The logo along the top is decent though the deep red blends into the black a little too much but the set as a whole looks good with the steelbook material and color combination. The back cover works much better for me and my own sense of color with the moon in the upper corner and just the hues of blue and silver as it blends into the forest and then more lanterns below. It’s hauntingly beautiful. The onsert, where you can see the difference in how material makes with color quality, has the basics that you expect with a good breakdown of the premise, some award nods, and a clear listing of the extras before you get to the technical setup for it all.
The extras for this release bring us a lot of good things, starting from a commentary by the director through several featurettes and a look inside the process. These pieces always do a great job of exploring how this kind of work is put together and are almost always thoroughly engaging and never long enough in the minds of many, myself included. The pieces here do a good job of looking at the individual puppets, the set design and construction of it, and looks at both the journey of the characters and more. There’s a really good storyboard version that’s done for the feature as well, and we get a good run of galleries and the theatrical trailer side.
Kubo of the Two-Strings was a film that I definitely had some anticipation for when it originally came out. I had enjoyed Laika’s first work with Coraline back in 2009 but passed on Boxtrolls in the theater as it didn’t appeal. But Kubo was a story that got my attention with what it was presenting, though I definitely understood the issues that people had and have with it when it came to the voice actors that were chosen and some of the other cultural issues that eat away at it for many. The film was the kind of work that I had been looking for out of Laika after Coraline in that while it featured a child as the lead, it was going for more mature storytelling overall and a different sense of seriousness and drama than most others of this genre get out of Hollywood.
The directorial debut of Travis Knight, the film comes from a screenplay by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler and the original story by Shannon Tindle with Haimes. The central focus is one that works well as we get to meet a young boy named Kubo who is on quite the journey in feudal Japan. He’s spent his time taking care of his mother, who is deathly ill at this point, and delights her and earns money elsewhere through the use of origami that he manipulates via magic and the shamisen that he has. It’s a familiar enough piece that you could see in any number of anime or manga projects and through the stop-motion element really shines because of the origami usage in general but also through the magic element. Just the sequence early in the film where he feeds his mother, who is almost vacant at this point, and crafts a number of creative animals to try and make her happy is wonderful. You get a real sense of the care and love he has toward her but also the certainty of what he has to do to make sure she and he both survive.
The theatrical nature of how Kubo does his shows by controlling the origami is definitely a delight and breathes its own life into things, and allows for some good stuff as the film shifts to the journey aspect and they take on their own life along the way. That, combined with the shamisen music itself, definitely becomes its own character. Everything changes, however, when Kubo doesn’t make it back to the cave that he and his mother hide in at night from those that are after her. Her two sisters and his grandfather, the moon king spend their time hunting for them and this has finally given them the chance to find him. It’s a fast sequence after the slow burn setup and introduction but it propels Kubo on his journey with the way his mother uses her magic to send him away. And that puts him on a quest to find the armor of his father so that he can defeat his aunts and grandfather to rescue his mother from this captivity. And a little bit of revenge as well since the Moon King was the one who plucked his eye when he was little.
Kubo’s journey is a familiar one to most anyone who has watched this kind of project before and it works well in doing so. Kubo gets some good companions along the way, such as the snow monkey that is essentially a reincarnation of his mother helping to guide him through all of this. He also gets a delightful bit of fun with Beetle, who is dealing with a curse and takes on a kind of protector role as they work together. They’re played by Charlize Theron and Matthew McConaughey respectively, which is certainly part of the criticism that comes in since it’s a very Japanese story. Both put in solid performances but it’s also the kind of project that makes you want to seek out the Japanese dub that exists with the 4K disc included in this release to see if that feels more natural. I suspect, at least for anime viewers, that it might come across more natural, especially if you’re like me and have seen this kind of story in that form many times over the years.
While it’s a familiar journey, it’s simply very well-executed. The visual design for it, especially with the aunts that are chasing him and all of the material with him controlling the origami, it’s just striking with how it looks. The creepy factor with the aunts is great and the origami is just so perfect for this medium on how it’s presented. The costume design is pretty strong as well overall with some really good ideas being utilized and I definitely appreciated how truly scrawny that Kubo looks throughout a lot of it. Honestly, this is the kind of format that I’d love to see used for doing a kind of classic Lupin the 3rd manga adaptation into this form. It’s got a kind of quality that really comes through and the little details, which require so much effort, look great with it. It’s the kind of animation that reminds me a lot of the feeling you get from traditional animation in the pre-CG era of anime.
While there are problematic elements to the film, it’s one that I enjoy overall and have a lot of positive memories of from the theatrical release. It holds up well several years later and this new edition looks great with its steelbook release. The film getting a 4K release is ideal because it’s the kind of project that will shine through it but it’s also a very strong Blu-ray release as well with all of its details and the design of it. This set is an easy one to recommend with a good story, some really creative design pieces to it, and a good sense of drama and seriousness while avoiding some of the usual traps that material like this often falls into in being too childish. This one treats kids as having some smarts about them and challenging them enough without needing to be sickeningly cloying and sweet. Definitely worth a pickup.
English DTS-HD MA 5.1 Language, French Language, Spanish Language, Inside LAIKA; Confronting the Epic Challenges of Kubo and The Two Strings Featuring Rare Test Footage, Inside LAIKA: Revisiting the Puppets with LAIKA’s Animation Team, Feature-Length Storyboards, Character Art, Concept Art and Behind-the-Scenes Photo Galleries, Audio Descriptive Track, Audio Commentary with Director/Producer Travis Knight, Kubo’s Journey, Original Featurettes
Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A-
Extras Grade: A
Released By: Shout! Factory
Release Date: February 28th, 2023
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.
This review was done with a review copy provided by the publisher. We are grateful for their continued support.