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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