Kubo and the Two Strings: Family Stories and Minor Spoilers

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I know what your thinking. “Really, Dan? Just another edition of Minor Spoilers? Isn’t this three in a row? Is NoggingSquall slowly transitioning into a mediocre review site?” Have no fear, dear reader! Starting in September, I will be beginning a series on why Christians should actively pursue writing genre fiction, and pursue it diligently and imaginatively. I’m wicked pumped for it, honestly.

I love animation. From Animaniacs to The Simpsons to Japanese anime to Disney features. There is so much potential for the story teller to vividly share his or her imagination to it’s fullest. And while CG films are all the money-maker movie studio rage right now, those films rarely use the surreality of animation to it’s full extent. (As an aside, while waiting to see Kubo and the Two Strings, I sat through no less than FOUR trailers for CG talking animal films. FOUR! Dear Hollywood, after Zootopia, your best attempts are subpar. Try something else. I hear CG food is on the rise).

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Enter Kubo and the Two Strings. Laika Entertainment, who has brought us Coraline and The Boxtrolls, steps up the studio’s already impressive stop-motion animation. The opening scene of a small boat being thrown about on stormy seas puts the waves of Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar water planet to shame. The meticulous care and the hours upon hours required for the animation is evident, as is the meticulous care to use the medium to tell a well crafted story. In fact, any other medium would not bear the story so appropriately. The film introduces Kubo as a storyteller who’s medium is origami paper which he animates with magic. Everyday, he goes into town to continue the great samurai epic of his father through folded paper that moves without the manipulation of human hands. It appears to be a deliberate allusion to the film’s stop-motion craft: paper and clay appearing to move with out human hands. This is only emphasized by young Kubo’s exhortation to the audience (both in the opening scene and in the town square) “If you must blink, do it now.” This is Kubo’s call to the story corner. This is his call to the campfire.

Kubo is oriented around family and the stories we tell about our families. I tend to think family stories are the most fun to tell. The film’s Japanese setting is a fertile ground of cultural heritage for such a focus on ancestry. It is an environment and heritage that, like the animation, is utilized to its fullest.

I have never given much credence to religious practices that include ancestor veneration or worship. I do not adhere to a religious or spiritual tradition that affirms it. As an avid fan of Japanese culture and history, I’ve read about these ancestry oriented traditions and have tried to understand them on their own terms, with varying degrees of success.

However, this was my first encounter with ancestry oriented spirituality since my grandmother died. And while watching Kubo and the Two Strings, I began to get it. I began to wrap my mind around how such a spirituality would develop anthropologically. Think about it. Your elder loved one dies.  Prior to the later half of the 20th century, he or she would have likely died in your home with the extended family unit. You and your household grieve. You desire the deceased’s presence with you. In a society that values the wisdom of the elderly, you desire their guidance. And perhaps you begin to associate certain occurrences around you with the intervention of your loved one. Maybe you begin to make connections between these associations and how that person lived his or her life before death. And then you start telling your children and grandchildren stories. Stories about your loved one. Kubo-and-the-Two-Strings-paper hanzoAnd the stories begin to include not only what that person did in life, but what he or she is continuing to do after death. And maybe your grandchildren tell the same stories to their grandchildren, only now you are dead and your story is being told. And then they become legend. That’s kind of cool.

Let me be clear: I am grossly oversimplifying this development and I am not trying to discredit or disrespect such traditions. What I am getting at is that the thought of my grandmother still being present and acting on my behalf in the cosmos is a very, very appealing thought. I am reminded of her with every cardinal I see perch at the her old bird feeders outside my window. I am reminded of her every time I pack clothes in her old duffel bag that can’t seem to shed the smell of her apartment. More than ever, I can hear her voice in my mind’s ear and find myself imagining what she would say to me as I recount my daily activities over the phone to her. If she were present lately, she would ask how I like our new apartment and my new job. I would say “It’s alright,” and she would say “Just alright? Well Daniel, you don’t sound too enthused.”

I can hear it. Crystal clear in my mind’s ear with all the same inflection and tone I had heard from her for over two decades. We all want to believe our loved ones are still with us after death, don’t we? We talk to pictures on the wall. We sit in front of head stones at the cemetery and feel compelled to say something then perhaps feel foolish because there can’t be anyway the person can hear us. I empathize with these Eastern traditions. Let’s keep telling family stories.

Let me leave you all this cover of the Beatles “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Good stuff.

 

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Minor Spoilers: I Hope You’ve Watched Stranger Things

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I really hoped you’ve watched Stranger Things on Netflix. If you haven’t, I highly suggest that you close your laptop or put down your tablet and do so. It is a captivating, suspenseful and wonder-filled eight hours which you can definitely finish in time to read this post without falling behind here at NogginSquall.  Spoilers do follow.
It is rare that I finish watching a show (or reading a book for that matter), and immediately have to desire to dive into it again from the beginning. Not since Breaking Bad. Luckily, Stranger Things is only eight episodes. And those eight episodes are each so well crafted, well acted, and well written that nothing is wasted. There is no filler, no mindless, wandering dialogue or forced romance to drag out the plot. The Duffer brothers tell a concise, tightly-woven story. There is no doubt that all eight hours are never anything more or less than the story they wanted to tell. There are plenty of articles across the web concerning the Duffers’ love for Stephen King or how the show is a love letter to Spielberg and Carpenter. And they’re great articles that help unravel the creative threads and inspirations behind Stranger Things.
What strikes me most about this Netflix original series is how committed the creators were to telling a story; they didn’t give into the temptation to tell the audience everything it could ever know about this parallel universe known as “The Upside Down.” The Duffer Brothers have said they have a 30 page document describing this eerie, distorted shadow of our side of existence, yet have kept it largely on a need-to-know basis. Sure, one could say, “It’s just good marketing to keep some secrets.” To which I respond “No, it’s just good story telling, and good story telling captivates.” If the presupposition amongst production companies as that a good story telling sells, why do we not see more reserve in other shows or movie franchises, preferring to rush to pack every easter egg or cameo possible into them?
If the Duffer brothers had decided to restrict the show to an eight episode mini-series, the show would follow in the same mysterious tradition of the sci-fi/horror films from the 80’s. Many of them, especially adaptations of Stephen King’s work, conclude ominously. The return of Will Byers, and the sacrifice of Eleven bring appropriate closure to the two primary narratives. And while Will’s bizarre glimpse or shift into the Upside Down right before the credits roll implies stranger things are still to come, it is not necessary for the story to feel complete. The first season stands on it’s own, much in the same way that the ending of John Carpenter’s The Thing or Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind are better left without sequels. The mystery of the unknown becomes part of the narrative itself.

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Now don’t get me wrong. I can’t wait for a second season. I think a mark of a well crafted story is that when it ends, you’re satisfied but desiring more. It leaves enough for your imagination to engage that you can’t help but keep wondering how the story continues. But the way it would continue in a sequel usually isn’t as satisfying as your wonderings. Nancy Wheeler’s arc comes full circle as she spends the Christmas evening with Steve. Joyce is eating with both of her sons as the family unit is restored. And Dustin, Lucas, Mike, and Will conclude a rousing game of Dungeon&Dragons with a climax similar to the game that introduces their characters at the beginning. While Hopper seems displaced amidst the seasonal cheer and is leaving food for Eleven (and we’re not sure if the two of them are communicating or not), it illustrates the reality that while some find closure, others do not. I’d argue that what brings the narrative full circle is that not everyone finds closure in the resolution because some people’s stories were not invested in quite the same way. Hopper was in a state of disorientation from before the show’s start. it would seem a little too convenient for Hopper to find the closure he needs by the end. His narrative goes beyond the concerns of finding Will Byers and defeating the monster.
I could say more about the monster. For now I’ll just say it is an incredible feat of practical movie magic. I hope you heeded my warning about spoilers. I think I may go start Stranger Things a second time tonight.

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Coming attractions

Hey everybody!

My sincere apologies.  I don’t have a post for this week.  I’ve been spending that last few days working on other projects., both personal and professional.  All good stuff.

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But have no fear!  The Squall is brewing up to some awesome content (at least I think it’s awesome).  Here’s a taste of what to expect over the next few weeks (in no particular order; titles subject to alteration):

 

  • Minor Spoilers: Stranger Things
  • Genre Fiction and the Prophetic Imagination (a 4-part series)
    • Beyond a Wardrobe: Why Christians Should Write Fantasy
    • Space Oddities and Aliens: Why Christians Should Write Science Fiction
    • The Fear:  Why Christians Should Write Horror
  • Minor Spoilers: Kubo and the Two Strings
  • The Other, Much Older Woman: Teresa of Avila
  • Probably some poetry.

Also, my wife and I celebrated our third anniversary last week.  She’s pretty great, not going to lie. LoRes-188

Catch ya later.

 

 

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The Life and Times of Jacob Travlers Chapter 3

Chapter 3: A Journey of a Thousand Miles…

The remainder of that day sat in quiet. The sun continued to turn the snow to slush and the clouds continued to flee from its face. The miller’s house was quiet. Only this quiet was busy. It was the quiet in which no one spoke but the huffing and heaving of the miller clearing wet snow was muted amongst the trees. It was the quiet in which no conversation filled the kitchen or reverberated over the supper table but the miller’s wife hurried about with her scrubbing and sweeping, always looking over her shoulder at the bedroom door of her brother-in-law then anxiously returning to her chores. It was the quiet in which no tears, no laughter, no muttering to one’s self beyond the door found the ears of the miller’s wife listening because there was none. Only the rustle of cloth on cloth and the hiss of metal on fabric as the brother-in-law packed, unpacked, and repacked his belongings. Jacob’s mind was as turbulent as the snow storm the night before, only now he felt fear. The sun was setting in the west. The day had moved swiftly, although the day seemed to have no end several hours before. He had only left his room once for a biscuit, salted fish, and some well water, avoiding eye-contact with Maggie as best he could. When heard her inhale in preparation for what might have been words for him, Jacob scurried only faster. He finished loading his pack for what felt like the hundredth time and sat on his bed.
On his bed next to his uncle’s letter.
He had read the letter a dozen times between his dazed packing and unpacking. He reread it always making sure he understood it correctly. He had spent the day rereading notes since he came home. Or came to what was once his home. He picked up the letter once again.

To my favorite nephew, Jacob Matthias Travlers. There. I have written it as good and final as if I had engraved it in granite. You are my favorite nephew, in so far as an uncle can have favorites. Certainly the scale has been tipped by the impending eviction you are facing. If I spoiled the surprise, then fold this letter up and speak with your brother. If you are aware, then your life is just beginning! Esau, and I suspect his wife as well, has decided it is time for you to leave the home of your childhood.
Good for you, my boy! I have dreamed of the day when you may join me on my merchant vessel. I have dreamed of the day when you and I would walk into the harbor of Nor’Haven and sale out on the seas on The Georgiana. But, alas, you have to make it to the harbor and make your way to me on your own. I cannot be there. Too much to do. Too many treasures to sell, too many royals to impress. And too many ladies to love. Have no fear, Jakey. On the back of this letter, I have left the name of a ship that should be leaving Nor’Haven for the south in a week’s time from when you should receive it. It will journey to the port of Edenweave. The Georgiana will be moored there when you arrive. If the weather holds out up your way, the walk from Norshire to Nor’Haven should take two days at a brisk pace with one four hour nap. Bring your gifts from your Uncle Malachi. You’ll need them.
Lastly, do not hate your brother and Margaret. They are giving you a gift, even if they do not know it. Let them live their quiet lives in their quiet village. You are made of sturdier stuff than that.
See you at Edenweave. Look for me at the Salty Lassie.
Love,
Malachi Travlers, Captain

Jacob turned the letter over:

Captain Reginald La Fayette
The Queen’s Splendor

The departure date was as Malachi had written. Only then did Jacob realize that the storm had delayed the letter. He had two days from the coming morning to be in Nor’Haven. His chest grew tight. His breath quickened. A two days’ walk with four hours of sleep his uncle had written. Where would he sleep? The thaw may have started but the nights would still be frigid and bearing frostbite. And even if he could manage a place to sleep along the way, Jacob wasn’t that fast of a marcher. He wasn’t conditioned for such a pace at that distance. Could he make it there in time? He would need a horse. Actually, Jacob had never ridden a horse, at least not as a grown man. And the family horse had frozen to death two winters ago and Esau hadn’t had the money to replace her. He’d need to go into town. Tonight. And find something for the following morning.
Jacob stopped. What was all this? Where did these machinations come from? Never had he planned such a journey. He had read stories of how others had traveled, but never sought out his own. But then, he had had a home.
This was it.
Jacob took a deep breath. He tied and buckled tight his pack, tightened his boot laces, and stood. His pulse quickened again, his chest tightened again. He closed his eyes and took another breath. Then another. Another.
In spurt of frustration Jacob slapped himself in the face, shook it off, and took one more deep breath. The deepest breath that, in that moment, Jacob believed he had ever inhaled. He threw open the door to the kitchen and as it banged and Margaret jumped, Jacob realized what he had hoped would be an act of confident resolution had turned to panic.
“Maggie,” the words stumbled out of his mouth. “Whatever you have prepared for supper, save it for you and my brother!” The words came hurried and panting. Was he afraid of speaking, leaving, or at staying? “I am leaving tonight!”

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Minor Spoilers (Comic Edition): Superman and Action Comics Introduce the Family-Man of Steel

Superman-Rebirth-Dead-ExplainedSuperman hasn’t received much love lately. Over the last decade, the Last Son of Krypton has had very few appealing story lines. Certainly a hero who is invulnerable to all but a couple very specific weakness (Kryptonite, red sunlight, magic), creates a some hurdles to overcome. And as of DC Comics’ The New 52 in 2011, and Zack Snyder’s depiction in The Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the most recent writing and marketing tactic has been to turn Kal-El into a brooding, angsty type who has far more emotional similarities with Batman than he does with his earlier life-long, “boy scout” persona. Because folks weren’t buying the boy scout Kryptonian. He seemed too perfect. When his powers were consistent, he seemed boring and spent more time fighting other aliens than saving Metropolis. When his powers were less consistent to make a conflict more interesting, there were some serious continuity questions (and if you’re a nerd like me, that bothers you… a lot). And with the success of Batman, and especially Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight in 2009, making Supes into an angsty hero who wrestles with his powers like a pubescent teen with a cracking voice seemed like a master plan.
Only it wasn’t.
That Superman, as well as most the New 52, were poorly received. Needless to say, an emo Superman was falling flat with readers. So much so that with the launch of DC Universe: Rebirth, Superman was killed off (rather anticlimactically I might add).
But good news everyone!
Superman is back in action and it is sweet!

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Without getting into all of the continuity and back story, I’ll try to set it up best I can. The events of Flashpoint introduced the New 52 while also scrapping the prior DCU. However, amidst the heroes of the New 52, including N52 Superman, emerges the Superman from the previous continuity. But he appears with his wife Lois Lane and their son Jonathan Kent. And they basically hide out. But now with the New 52 Superman no longer with us, and the DC Universe: Rebirth in full swing, the boy scout Superman who know’s what he’s about and is comfortable in his own skin is back, baby! Out of hiding and taking up the red cape again to save Metropolis!
It may sound like cheesy comic book technicalities, and it is, but the Superman of Truth and Justice now has some responsibilities and roundedness of character that he didn’t before.   The Action Comics and Superman titles are four issues deep as of the first week of August.

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In Superman, we find a more personal story of Clark Kent trying to teach his son Jonathan what it means to have the powers he does. However, Jonathan’s abilities aren’t consistent with his father’s because he is half Kryptonian and half human, resulting in Superman and Lois Lane both having to walk along side their son as all three discover the complexities of Jonathan’s unique place in the world. The introduction of Superman as Super-Family Man gives Supes the chance to father rather than be fathered. He has stepped into the shoes of Jonathan Kent (Clark’s earth dad) and Jor-El. We’ve seen Kal-El be a mentor before to the likes of Supergirl, but this father and husband role adds new flavor to the Man of Steel.

If you’re looking for something on a broader Metropolis saving scope, Action Comics delivers. While Superman focuses on the Kent family, this title delves into a pre-Flashpoint Superman being immersed in a world that is oddly familiar but with some stark differences. (Spoiler Alert) By the second issue of the arc, Superman finds himself fighting Doomsday again (which doesn’t bode well if you know his history with this villain). However, he is also fighting along side a Lex Luthor who has taken it upon himself to be the successor to the deceased Superman. Lex even goes as far to wear the El family crest (the iconic S). Super Lex Superman is perplexed and skeptical of this version of his arch-nemesis who appears to have the best interested of Metropolis in mind.
How will Superman defeat Doomsday? Will Lex prove to be a true ally? Can Supes make the paradigm shift and learn all the nuanced differences in this new universe?

So far, writers Dan Jurgens (Action Comics), and Patrick Gleason and Peter J. Tomasi (Superman) appear to have found what makes Kal-El unique among superheroes. Here is a hero who wants to inspire hope in those around him, and genuinely desires to be in community with others. While this desire has been neglected by the majority of the Superman story, in the name of “The people I love could get hurt if they were close to me,” we now get to read an older, wiser Superman who is willing to take that chance and, dare I say, balance the tension of “work” and family. The Superman of the New 52 proved (hopefully once and for all… Looking at you, Snyder) that the grimmer, broodier hero-character trait of Batman is not a success formula to be applied across every colorful panel.superman rebirth 1 Rather, why that works for Batman is because Bruce Wayne lives with the tragedy of losing his family before his eyes and is reluctant to be close to even his first sidekick Dick Grayson, or his own son Damien Wayne (and now even the Dark Knight in DC Universe: Rebirth is actively embracing a familial life style for the first time since No Man’s Land). But Superman, despite having no home planet to return to, grew up in a loving household with Martha and Jonathan Kent from infancy. Clark Kent had loving parents and nurturing family life. With such fond memories of growing up, why wouldn’t a community-seeking Kal-El not let Lois Lane finally love him and subsequently start a family?

This return to Superman’s previous incarnation, and the new take on a Family-Man of Steel is a step in the right direction. It’s the Boy Scout in a new world with would-be villains he must revaluate and give the benefit of the doubt to. Can you teach an old Krypto new tricks?

So far, so good.

So grab a Little Caesar’s pizza, some Mountain Dew, and a few of the reprints at your local comic book store.

Forget the 2006 film. Now Superman has truly returned.

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A Morning by the Lobster Tank

Do you know what is one of the coolest looking creatures on planet earth? The Lobster. Lobsters are pretty frakking cool (as well as delicious, but I digress). I had forgotten just how bizarre they look. The shells, the claws, the antennae! To think, I had to be reminded of these crazy crustaceans that seem to fall right out of a 1930’s pulp sci-fi series by a three year old. Here’s a play-by-play.
I am going about my weekly grocery shopping when I pass a gentleman and his young son. All I hear from the boy is “Dad, I don’t think the lobsters are in their tank.” He sounds a little sorrowful, and is shuffling in his pint-sized crocs staring at the tiled floor. His father guides him along with a “Well, let’s take a look.” I keep eaves dropping because that’s what I do in grocery stores. If you’re near me and words are coming out of your mouth, I’m probably invading the privacy of your conversation with my ears. I’m sorry but grocery stores are only so interesting. (Just be glad I’m not trying to improvise the other half of your phone conversation because I can see you talking into your Bluetooth in the deli line).
Here I am checking the market price on black beans and taking my sweet time because I am hooked. Are the lobsters in the tank? So I wait. I hear the kid’s feet shuffle on tile. I pick up another can of beans to read because I’m making chili tonight and I feel invested in this kid’s anticipation. Finally, before store security gets a report about an unshaven man in faded cargo shorts who’s lingering near the organic canned foods and seems to be following a father and son, I hear the kid shout “Dad, the lobsters are in the tank! The lobsters! They’re in the tank!”
Because he’s a good father and isn’t inclined to say to his child “No shit, kid,” even though he most likely noticed the occupied tank three yards earlier, I hear him say “Oh wow, they are!” At this point, I need visual confirmation myself. I look over my shoulder and the kid is almost pressed up against the tank, which puts him on eye level with these beaded eyed shellfish. No joke, the kid might as well be at sea world for all he cares. He’s at discount aquarium with his dad. The joy and fascination springing out of this kid was infectious.
I resisted the urge to go look at the tank myself. (I also had a small breakfast and didn’t want to risk bringing home a $12.00/lb brunch). The boy was very vocal. Every few seconds there was another “Woah…” or “Did you see?” And all of sudden, I was walking through a different grocery store three states east with my mom and dad, looking at a lobster tank, on my own discount aquarium trip. It was small grocery store in my hometown that I could walk to from my house. Across the street from a liquor store-turned-Chinese buffet. In the time I grew up there, the space had been occupied by three different grocers, in fact. And the lobster tank was always on the customer’s left as he or she walked through the automatic doors. It was a huge tank. Maybe it’s because I was young and everything seems bigger when you’re four, but I swear the lobster tanks I see now are tiny. This one in my home town should’ve charged admission. At age three, or even five or six, lobsters were fascinating!
And then they became common place. Of course my new grocery store has a lobster tank with a dozen lobsters in it. It’s a grocery store. And the lobsters lost their mystery, their wonder, their awesomeness. I spend more time trying to avoid looking at them because I can’t afford a lobster bake rather than watching these bizarre, armored and clawed, pint-sized sea monsters. Seriously, write down a description of a lobster without using the designation “lobster,” and tell me you didn’t just describe a Phoenician sailor’s nightmare.
What else would blow my mind if I saw it like that kid at the lobster tank? Where else would I rush to get a look at the seemingly common place?

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