I just saw Kubo and the Two Strings, and everyone in my family wants to know “why is it called **two strings* when the shamisen he’s playing has three strings?

In fact, the name of the instrument (三味線) literally means three strings.

I thought it would be an alusion that would be clear some time during the movie, and turn out not to have anything to do with the lute and turn out to be a play on words against the instrument name.

But no explaination turned up, that any of us noticed.

Any idea as to the meaning of the title?

On IMDB it shows the names used in all the translations, and most of them don’t keep the “2 strings” name. It’s Kubo and the Magic Sword, or Kubo and the Samari Search. And in Greek it translates back as “two buttons and two strings”.

Besides the fact that most (but not all) languages didn't keep the name, I found it strange that they focused on magic sword. My impression was that the magic was his own (being a demigod) and he used his music to focus and control it. The sword was “indestructible” but not magical in other ways. In fact, it was a point that he decided to stop using the sword to fight with and use his magic strumming instead!

So, I’m suspecting that the 2 strings might be wordplay or alusion that doesn’t translate. Since it is kept in a couple translations that are unrelated languages, I’m leaning toward an alusion or culteral reference.

  • 1
    @Mithoron, He lost all three original strings before the big battle. He had to improvise 3 strings (two hairs and a bowstring) before he could play.
    – JDługosz
    Dec 11, 2016 at 15:07
  • 3
    @JDługosz I can't remember exactly but didn't two of the strings come, one each, from his parents..... just looked it up - hair from mother, bow string from father, hair from self. Whilst watching I felt the strings from his parents satisfactorily explained the title.
    – Mr_Thyroid
    Dec 11, 2016 at 15:51

1 Answer 1


Because Kubo is one of the three strings, and the other two strings are his two parents, represented by a Monkey and a Beetle.

  • That would be “Kubo and the two other strings” if Kubo is also a string.
    – JDługosz
    Dec 13, 2016 at 16:43
  • 4
    Unfortunately for your smart response, this is the correct answer.
    – Ross
    Dec 13, 2016 at 17:14
  • 2
    This is pretty much confirmed in the end credits, where someone (the director?) writes some message like "With loving thanks to my two strings, Mom and Dad" Sep 24, 2017 at 7:41

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