Kubo and the Two Strings—the newest and arguably most intricate offering from Laika studios—is directed by Travis Knight and written by Marc Haimes and Chris Butler. In it, Kubo finds himself as the hero of one of his own stories, set on the path to find the mystical armor needed to defeat the Moon King, a . . . creature . . . from which Kubo and his mother have been hiding for a decade or more. We follow Kubo as he is protected by Monkey and mentored by Beetle in his quest to recover the armor his father was never able to use. Along the way, we are treated to some pretty heavy Eastern ancestor-worship spirituality. The music is by award winning Italian composer Dario Marianelli, who does a very nice job invoking Asian musical flavor while balancing it with western musical ingredients.
The style of animation, a combination of computer generated mattes with honest-to-goodness stop motion, is a remarkable use of high technology and artistic vision to produce something that could easily be considered a high art. The collaborative effort is nothing short of amazing. Check out this video delving into just that. You can also check out the movies that Eve mentions, Spirited Away by Hayao Miyazaki, Heroby Zhang Yimou, and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon by Ang Lee.
“If you must blink, do it now…”
From this point on, we drop spoilers , so if you have not seen the movie, please stop reading here.
Kubo must locate the three pieces of legendary armor that is said to allow him to defeat the Moon King: The sword unbreakable, the breastplate impenetrable, and the helmet invulnerable. As Christians, we too are instructed to prepare ourselves for the battle at hand:
“Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness
for the gospel of peace. In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish
all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word. Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.” (Ephesians 6:10-18)
Unlike Kubo, nearing the end of his story, we dare not discard the armor of God. The wisdom of men may call us fools, but a large part of our growth as Christians is coming to terms with exactly how much we are unable to stand on our own against the forces arrayed against us. It is only through faith in the sacrifice of the Lamb that we are saved—not through any work that we do.
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins in which you previously walked according to the ways of this world, according to the ruler who exercises authority over the lower heavens,the spirit now working in the disobedient. We too all previously lived among them in our fleshly desires, carrying out the inclinations of our flesh and thoughts, and we were by nature children under wrath as the others were also. But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love that He had for us, made us alive with the Messiah even though we were dead in trespasses. You are saved by grace! Together with Christ Jesus He also raised us up and seated us in the heavens, so that in the coming ages He might display the immeasurable riches of His grace through His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are His creation, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:1-10 (Emphasis added.)
We found it interesting how the number 3 is not only so prominent in Kubo and the Two Strings, but in cultures worldwide. Checkout the Wikipedia article on the number 3 to get a taste for how ingrained it is in the religions and cultures of the world.
“Ask her spirit to honor us with its light.”
The festival that plays such a significant role in the movie is probably a version of the Obon festival, and involves helping the spirits of the departed along on their path. Rituals like this are common in many world religions and, to a lesser extent, for better or worse, different traditions in Christianity. Christ came, however, to fulfill the law, and in so doing, made moot the point of most of the ritual practices of the children of Abraham.
“Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves to be purified with better sacrifices than these. For the Messiah did not enter a sanctuary made with hands (only a model of the true one) but into heaven itself, so that He might now appear in the presence of God for us. He did not do this to offer Himself many times, as the high priest enters the sanctuary yearly with the blood of another. Otherwise, He would have had to suffer many times since the foundation of the world. But now He has appeared one time, at the end of the ages, for the removal of sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And just as it is appointed for people to die once—and after this, judgment— so also the Messiah, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.” (Hebrews 9:23-28)
“People like an ending!”
Strangely, the movie seemed to have two morals: 1) All stories have endings [Kubo to his grandfather], and 2) Stories never end [Beetle to Monkey]. We found this paradox strange since it felt like it was the primary moral that the story of Kubo and the Two Strings was trying to establish. In particular, the way that the idea that stories never end, but live on in the memories of those that we leave behind, ties into the ancestor worship as demonstrated in the villagers’ participation in the Obon festival.
“…double the truth…”
In a movie heavy with symbolism, I personally expected the very deliberate covering and uncovering of Kubo’s eye-patch to be a deeper metaphor for something . . . but I just couldn’t figure out what, precisely.
Of course, Kubo is wearing an eye-patch because his eye was taken from him when he was a small child; taken by his grandfather, the Moon King, to try and prevent Kubo from ever connecting with humanity. Somehow, the Moon King’s blindness is what he attributes to his perfection (and what the audience sees is a major contributing factor to his hatred of humanity.)
The “gods” of Kubo, and many pantheons throughout history, are filled with part-time deities that rule only specific realms or times. How grateful we are that we serve the one, true God; God both omniscient and omnipotent, God whose justice, wrath, and love are equally boundless.
“For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart. No creature is hidden from Him, but all things are naked and exposed to the eyes of Him to whom we must give an account.” (Hebrews 4:12-13)
Kubo and the THREE strings
Just as the title shows, Kubo and the Two Strings is lousy with symbolism; not just that of eastern spirituality and mysticism, but also that of the symbolism of the story—the identity of the stings, and the lengths to which Kubo goes to acquire them. In all cases, the symbolism deserves critical examination, because this is one of the most potent delivery mechanisms for philosophies, particularly in mainstream media. Be prepared to consider not only what you think the symbolism is meant to portray, but also how it compares with your personal beliefs as a Christian, parent, and/or friend. Be ready to use Kubo and the Two Strings as a springboard to discuss God’s gift to us and to bring glory to Him.
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