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Kubo and a Life Defined by Story} ?> “If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to what you see no matter how unusual it may seem. If you look away even for just one second, then our hero will surely parish.” These words, repeated throughout Kubo and the Two Strings, indicate the movie is all about story. Most specifically, the way that stories shape who we are.
Kubo begins each day by telling tales of warriors, monsters, and quests to the villagers with the power of animated origami. But his story is tied to his wounded mother, a fear of his grandfather in the moon, and a father who gave his life to save him. While he has heard the stories of these things, he doesn’t fully believe them until he meets the people who stole his eye.
Kubo’s mother has a story as well. She was an assassin sent to destroy Hanzo, the brave warrior, who was searching for three magical artifacts that would give him the power to care for the people of the world. She was cold, calculating, perfect in her hardness, and her story would have continued on that way but for four simple words spoken by Hanzo: “You are my quest.” Her story is invaded by love and through love she is forever changed. Her sisters and her father think that love has made her weak, destroying the perfection of the porcelain life her sisters still live, but her love has made her strong and gives her the power to overcome, as well as to protect and defend others.
I have known love and it has changed me. My family has made sacrifices to help me become a better person. I have a wife whose love has helped me move from selfishness to self-sacrifice. Her love, and my love for her, has broken down my need to spend weekends raiding, late nights watching movies that only I like, sleeping in the middle of the bed, and spending countless thousands of dollars on my own wants. Those “sacrifices” have actually made my life fuller. Being loved and loving another has changed me for the better; even though I have given up many things, I would have it no other way.
Hanzo’s story consists of an epic quest, vanquished monsters, magic weapons and a life-changing moment with a beautiful assassin. While many believe he is dead, he has been cursed to forget his story and live his life as a wandering samurai in service to a house destroyed. Hanzo’s story has been stolen from him, the ultimate punishment, because his love changed someone.
There is nothing I can think of that would be more horrible than to have the story of love, life, and family taken from me. The Moon King steals the heart from Hanzo, his most redeeming quality, and leaves the stuff that defines him, but is of least value. It wasn’t Hanzo’s sword or armour or skills that broke the assassin, it was his love. Hanzo reminds me that love is the greatest power I possess. Crushing my opponent is never going to be as valuable as caring about them. Respecting someone else’s views and seeing them as a valuable person can change a life. While Hanzo is punished, his love begins the chain that redeems not only the assassin, but a whole family. So if I love even my enemies, I am actually doing something to bring about peace rather than maintaining a war.
The Moon King’s story is the saddest of them all. He has experienced the suffering and pain of losing loved ones and the loss has driven him to purge all elements of humanity from himself and his daughters. This pain sets him on a quest to do the same to his grandson. He hates love because love makes you vulnerable, love makes you susceptible to pain, and it creates a story of past and future where all the messiness of humanity leaves an indelible impression upon you. Kubo’s mom calls her people cold, austere, and perfect. They have attempted to remove pain by removing all feeling.
At the end of the film, Kubo uses his power to return his grandfather’s humanity, though the old man is left without his memories. The townspeople decide ho help him write his story by filling in the blanks for him. They tell him what a wonderful, kind, and generous man he is, giving him a chance at a new beginning.
Grandfather’s story is the one I can relate most to because I have been given this gift as well. As a believer in Christ, I believe His life, death and resurrection gives me the opportunity to rewrite my story. I was like Kubo’s grandfather: cold, dark, a hater of emotion and life. But when I started believing in a higher power that has forgiven me of everything I’ve done wrong, I experienced life in a new way and now I can become loving, gentle, kind, good, faithful and self-controlled.
Story as Identity
By using story as identity, Kubo and the Two Strings creates a system that allows people to redeem who they are with each moment. Some say that we are the sum of our choices, but that feels like it reduces who we are to a mathematical equation (it also means that the more choices you make, the less impact any one choice has on the total outcome). But by seeing ourselves as a story, we can dramatically change the direction and future of our lives with each choice.
Kubo faces one of these choices when it comes to participating in his grandfather’s story. He can use the Sword Unbreakable to slay his monster grandfather, or he can retrieve his shamisen and use the remnants of his family’s story to restore his grandfather. We aren’t just the sum of our choices and we aren’t just the product of our story; we are part of the lives of others and they become part of ours.
Each story in Kubo and the Two Strings speaks to me of the love, sacrifice, compassion and care of God. I see the law lived out in Monkey, seeking to spare me from pain. I see Christ in the sacrifice of Hanzo to save me from the darkness. I see the redeeming power of God’s great plan in the restoration of sight for Grandfather, and the new story of hope and love written over the old story of hate and fear. Kubo and the Two Strings is about being redefined by story and that is a theme I can easy understand as I too have been redefined by the stories of those around me, my loved ones, and that of a cross and an empty grave.