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Kubo and the Two Strings (Dario Marianelli)

August 30, 2016


Dario Marianelli, 2016, Warner Bros Records
16 tracks, 53:11

Kubo may have two strings, but Dario Marianelli has an entire orchestra and the kitchen sink to play with. Will the result be as magical as Kubo’s magical armour?

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

A young boy named Kubo must locate a magical suit of armour worn by his late father in order to defeat a vengeful spirit from the past. The film marks the directorial debut of Travis Knight, who served as an animator and producer on several films including ParaNorman and The Boxtrolls. The latter featured a score by Dario Marianelli and I carefully assume that’s why Knight approached Marianelli for Kubo. The story taps into Japanese mythology and so the composer is allowed to explore Asian sounds and techniques, something we haven’t really heard from Marianelli before.

What does it sound like?

After a very dramatic opening for surging strings and disturbing brass crescendos (seriously, it’s somewhere between Alien 3 and The Perfect Storm), the music suddenly changes tone and colour and gradually it becomes clear that we’re in Japan. “Kubo Goes To Town” slowly introduces Kubo’s theme in the woodwinds section, accompanied by plucked instruments. It’s beautiful, even magical. As the cue progresses, Marianelli picks up the tempo and introduces staccato strings to add a little bit of urgency, not too much.

With “Story Time” the composer seems to tap into the wacky side of Japanese culture as he offers a quirky melody for shamisen, staccato strings and light percussion; whilst “Ancestors” is a gorgeous cue for lush strings and woodwinds. “Meet the Sisters”, who are evil, sees Marianelli going into horror mode with aleatoric brass, rattling percussion, string ostinati as well as staccato winds. The surging strings, brass and eerie vocal towards the end quite literally make this a whirlwind of a track.

We soon find ourselves back in playful territory with “Origami Birds”, a beautifully colourful cue which features fragments of the score’s main theme. “The Giant Skeleton” is one of the score’s biggest set-pieces. An exciting action cue with a heroic and swashbuckling twist. Further action cues include “Above and Below”, “United-Divided” and parts of “Showdown With Grandfather”. During these cues, the composer never loses sight of his melodies or the Japanese setting. The music never becomes too aggressive, or over-indulgent. It always remains harmonic, melodic and fun.

Elsewhere, cues like “The Galleon Restored”, “Monkey’s Story”, “Hanzo’s Fortress” and “Rebirth” offers absolutely wonderful explorations of lush melodies and magical East-meets-West orchestrations. I mentioned in my review of Neal Acree’s Revelation that Western composers seem extra inspired when working with Asian stories and locales. Kubo is no exception. It’s an exquisite score with beautiful melodies and wonderful orchestrations. As ever with Marianelli, his work can barely be faulted. The one thing I would say though is that, for all its beauty and for all the times I have happily and greedily returned to this score, I’m not really coming away humming its main theme. Is that a bad thing? No not necessarily, but there are several other scores (available now) whose themes I’ve not been able to forget, Revelation for example – and it’s a wee shame that Kubo doesn’t quite stick in the same way.

The album concludes with the song “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”, originally by The Beatles, performed by Regina Spektor and produced by Marianelli. The composer infuses the cue with strings and Asian instrumentation so it’s in-keeping with the score. Whilst I admire the production values, the song itself does little for me – I just don’t like the melody and the lyrics.

Is it any good?

Dario Marianelli’s Kubo and the Two Strings is a vibrant and colourful score; perhaps the most playful we’ve heard from this composer to date (sure, there’s The Boxtrolls, but I didn’t quite connect with that one). The writing and orchestrations are flawless. The music truly takes the listener on a journey, during which Marianelli explores styles and techniques we haven’t really heard from him before. The result is pure class. It’s beautiful, it’s adventurous, it’s lush and action-packed all at once. And never once does the composer lose sight of his melodies or the Japanese local. Kubo‘s main theme is pretty, but a tad too elusive. I’m struggling to remember it once the album has run its course – and that is a little bit of a shame. Still, this is a magnificent score from one of the most talented composers working today, leaving me wanting more!

Rating [4/5]


01. The Impossible Waves (2.37)
02. Kubo Goes to Town (1.25)
03. Story Time (2.10)
04. Ancestors (2.07)
05. Meet the Sisters! (2.33)
06. Origami Birds (3.25)
07. The Giant Skeleton (3.30)
08. The Leafy Galleon (4.36)
09. Above and Below (3.59)
10. The Galleon Restored (1.06)
11. Monkey’s Story (2.57)
12. Hanzo’s Fortress (5.45)
13. United-Divided (3.01)
14. Showdown with Grandfather (7.04)
15. Rebirth (1.33)
16. While My Guitar Gently Weeps (Regina Spektor) (5.23)

Review (C) 2016 Synchrotones

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