So despite Kubo and the Two Strings being problematic (if not outright racist) for casting white actors in the lead roles of a movie set in ancient Japan, I decided to go see the movie for myself. After all, the movie had garnered many glowing reviews calling it a masterpiece and being poetic and deep I decided to give it a go.
I wish I had those two hours of my life back.
Okay, I’ll give the film credit: it is certainly beautiful to look at, no question. The adventure story is pretty exciting, and the dynamic between Kubo, Monkey, and Beetle is lovely. But I’m sorry, it does NOT make up for the blatant display of ableism.
SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON.
For starters, at the beginning of the film, we see Kubo caring for his mother, who is suffering from brain damage. And of course, most of the focus is how poor Kubo is worried about his mother and ‘losing’ her than it is on the mother herself. I hate this trope, of having a disabled character but focusing more on their poor caretaker than on the disabled person themselves, but that’s the least of this film’s problems (since when the mother gets reincarnated, she’s free from the brain damage).
No, it’s how the movie decides to present a metaphor of acknowledging and loving life in all its wonders and flaws and equating it with vision. LITERAL vision.
See, the main plot line is how Kubo needs to get his father’s armor in order to defeat his grandfather and aunts. At first they make it clear that it’s so they don’t take him away from his mother, but then it shifts to be more that they don’t take away his eyes.
Okay, why does it matter if Kubo is blind? He has magic powers. He can take care of himself. So right away, they make it look like being blind is the worst thing that can possibly happen, even though lots of people are blind and have full lives.
But oh, it gets worse.
When Monkey (really Kubo’s mother) explains what exactly the Moon King (Kubo’s grandfather) wants from Kubo, it’s to take away his other eye (Kubo is half blind) so that he can go to the Heavens. Apparently, when Kubo loses his vision completely, he’ll become cold, unfeeling, unloving, and not care for the world and the people in it, and become an uncaring god. Literally they describe everything that could happen if Kubo loses his other eye negatively. Wow.
Then Kubo has a dream where he meets his grandfather and, surprise surprise, he’s completely blind! Except maybe not, because when he meets the Moon King later, he apparently can see, at least visually, but he’s ‘blind’ to the beauty of Earth and life and blah blah blah insert pretentious philosophical poetry here. But it’s okay, when the Moon King becomes human, he can (partially) see! And therefore be able to start seeing the good in life!
Literally the entire movie is about how important vision is. How seeing into people’s eyes can let you empathize with and love them, and how being able to ‘see’ makes us human. It’s apparently all supposed to be metaphorical (since apparently the Moon King does have some form of vision) but it’s all undone since the main plot is how the Moon King LITERALLY wants to TAKE AWAY KUBO’S EYES in order for him to be ‘perfect’.
Why is this bad? Because people with disabilities are routinely portrayed as being monsters. How man times was the villain in the movie holding a cane, or physically deformed, or had a funny way of talking? How many times do they show disabled people as being incapable of leading full, happy lives? How many times do you see the disabled person as dangerous and irrational and crazy?
My point is, even if you don’t think the movie is actually saying blindness is the worst thing ever, it still has an uncomfortable metaphor that utilizes blindness in order to get the point across. Yes, I get it. Life is good and worth fighting for, even if it isn’t perfect. You don’t have to bring in how you need to ‘see’ it in order to appreciate it.
I’m honestly really upset over this. We talk about this movie for its racism. Why is nobody taking about this movie for its ableism? Why did absolutely nobody point out the uncomfortable use of blindness as a metaphor and use it negatively?
As you can see, I’m really frustrated. There are so many popular things out right now that have disappointed me gravely, and at this point, I’m really fed up. And I’m not going to be in any hurry to see any more Laika films until I know they won’t use someone’s disability as a half-assed metaphor. I’m done.