I wept so profusely while watching Kubo & the Two Strings, I thought I would never stop weeping. This humorous, playful, artistically innovative, visually stunning, and musically delicious film also engages head-on with grief, loss, death, and trauma. It plunges into the difficult problems of love and mortality, avoiding the Disney happy ending while rooting its reassurance in the profundity of the experience of love.
Oh, I guess I forgot to give readers a spoiler alert.
Initially, I was extremely distracted, glancing over to check and see that my fairly sensitive daughter wasn’t scared and upset. The movie keeps a snappy pace, so there isn’t too much time devoting to dwelling on horror. The aunts, with their Kabuki masks, are absolutely terrifying. One moment I was moved to tears
at the painful sight of Kubo’s mother’s post-traumatic stress disorder, and her dissociative condition, and Kubo’s “parenting” of this woman. Then, however, she battles and defends her child against her sisters.
Kubo’s magical imagination and musical creativity express his capacity for love and joy. The film beautifully uses Shinto ritual, origami, Japanese cultural practices in food, music, dress, art, architecture, and lifestyle. It is a treat for the senses.
I’ve come to hold death, grief, and loss as heartache that I am not really sure how to resolve. Kubo won’t magick pain away, but I had a taste of the catharsis that consumers of Greek tragedy experienced. “‘Tis better to have loved and lost / Than never to have loved at all” (Tennyson) may work for you. In the moment of grief and loss, it’s unlikely to help, but the Moon Beast’s dissociation of raging resentment offers no promise of healing. The world is aflame with fear, pain, and rage. Can the Moon Kings of our world replace their rage and loss with love and grief? Can the Mothers, after trauma, come back to life and return to their lost selves? Can the children, having sacrificed eyes and hearts, return to joy, music, and love?