East meets West in "Kubo of the Two Strings": Seeing is Remembering

(We may spoil anything and everything, so you've been warned.)

I was excited to see "Kubo" because it looked very Japanese, but I would never have guessed just how earnest its cultural appropriation would be. I expected a typical adventure story with some Eastern-inspired elements. What I saw was a beautifully realized myth about dealing with loss, seamlessly weaving together Western religious themes with probably the principal occupation of Japanese religion: the spirits of the dead.

Religion might seem like a controversial topic especially in a film targeted toward children, but Japanese religion itself is almost a misnomer, as its rituals today are more akin to traditions than affirmations of belief in the supernatural. The obon festival that frames Kubo's journey honors and celebrates deceased family members and ancestors by cleaning and placing offerings at gravesites, but it also includes trappings as secular as Christmas gifts; it is one of Japan's largest festivals, when transit is crowded with travelling relatives. Yet when Kubo, unsatisfied by his mother's failing memory of his deceased father, hopes to connect with him by joining in the ritual of the obon festival, he is disappointed when no spiritual sign of his father appears to him. Rather, Kubo's expectations of the ritual oddly align with our own. Why shouldn't Kubo have a vision as in "Lion King" where Simba speaks to his father's spirit in the heavens? Because in "Kubo" the real magic is the art of storytelling, and the heavens are home to beings who are ruthless and cold.

Kubo's story is a tragic one. He is the progeny of one of the Moon King's fiercely powerful daughters and the mighty warrior she was sent to kill. The Moon King destroyed Kubo's family as punishment for his mother's rebellion, and took one of his eyes. When Kubo's vengeful aunts come to take his remaining eye to blind him to humanity, his mother sends him on a quest to find his father's magical armor. Kubo then comes to see himself less as the village storyteller he is and more as a warrior driven by loss to seek revenge, much like his father before him, much like the heroes of many classical Japanese tales.

But the Moon King, so he claims, only wants to take Kubo's eyes so that he can take his rightful place among the omniscient stars, so that he can become cold, immortal, and perfect. Human eyes, it seems, are more preoccupied with beauty than with truth. Kubo's mother describes falling in love with his father as an act of "seeing" and her story of heavenly descent and its consequences calls to mind the Western fall of man more than any Eastern myth. In challenging the Moon King's order Kubo is a Miltonian hero akin to Mal in Joss Whedon's "Serenity" or Lyra in Phillip Pullman's "His Dark Materials." For there to be stories in the world, Kubo realizes, there must also be endings. There must also be death.  

At the critical moment, Kubo lays aside his father's armor for the ancient Japanese instrument of storytelling, his magic samisen, to save the day with the power of the memories it can summon. He asserts that humans can transcend death through the passing on of their stories into memory, and decides to end his story by simultaneously choosing death over immortality and forgiveness over revenge. Kubo transforms the Moon King into a human with no memories, so the inventive villagers bestow him with the notion that he is a good person, and he becomes one. The film's message is a profound one: It is our flawed nature, our ability to choose what we remember, that allows us to continually remake the truth and create beauty in the world; we are all storytellers. It is with this understanding that Kubo finally succeeds in literally animating the spirits of the dead.

For all the Japanese culture that this American production appropriates, it is incredibly competent in its usage and understanding of those elements, (except perhaps for one moment soup-slurping). For the best example, the Japanese word kami can refer to gods, paper, and hair, implying that the latter have some sacred attributes; the film uses this association to imply that memories and stories are sacred. Kubo's magic origami plays a vital role in his storytelling as well as his quest, and the titular two strings include a strand of his mother's hair Kubo strings onto his samisen to empower it with her memory. In addition to all it takes on, the film has the confidence to contribute Western elements and find where the two cultures meet. Laika has created something truly original, rendered in beautiful animation that affirms the film's message. Should you choose to see it, it is unlikely you will forget it.

For a full review of "Kubo" check out The Movie Gang Podcast from Tuscan Shed Media.


What the gang has been watching on Netflix

The Tuscan Shed gang spends a lot of time watching movies, playing video games and checking out the newest anime. But we also watch a lot of television. Have you ever wondered what the gang watches in their free time? Cast member Bobbye Pyke tells us what her top four shows are to check out on Netflix this fall.

Summer is most definitely coming to a close. The signs are everywhere. School is starting back up, my allergy to Ragweed has left me in a permanent scratchy-throat state and up in Wisconsin, the telltale signs of an impending winter are everywhere.

For me, this means an intense need for binge-able television since there is no way I will be leaving my comforts of my house during the coming winter months. So here is the list of shows that I am most excited about on Netflix right now.

4. BoJack Horseman

This dark, animated comedy is another fantastic addition to the Netflix original series powerhouse. It follows the story of a humanoid horse named BoJack who was once, long ago, the star of a daytime television series. The show follows BoJack’s struggle with his own relevance as well as who he is in the world. Is he the hero or the villain?

This show is witty and dark. It utilizes human and animal characters and certainly enjoys a good pun. The show is told through a rotating cast of characters who are all deeply flawed. The show seems to encourage each character to “do better.” Some succeed and others, well, you doubt they ever will.

Season Three released this summer and I personally think it is the best of the bunch. While Season One BoJack is just kind of a bumbling asshole, Season Three BoJack is vulnerable. The show shines a bright light on mental health issues while still maintaining its satirical edge. It explores, through a non-human character, what it means to be human.

This is not to say that the show is not laugh-out-loud funny, because it is. The switch between humor, absurdity and downright depression is subtle. The writers know how to take the audience on a rollercoaster of emotions and their commitment to continuity adds to the hidden humor of the show.

Give this show a chance. The first season will introduce you to all the characters and give you a taste of what is to come. The second season helped the show gallop into one of my favorite shows of all time and the third season reminded me of why it belonged there. Seriously, check it out.

3. The Seven Deadly Sins

I’ll be honest, when this show popped up as one of the most highly rated Netflix shows available, I still didn’t want to watch it. I can admit that I have never really watched anime. But let me tell you, this show has opened up a whole new genre of television for me.

The Seven Deadly Sins was originally a Japanese manga, written and illustrated by Nakaba Suzuki. The manga began in 2012 and to date has sold more than 10 million copies. It was adapted into a 24-episode anime that aired from 2014-2015.

Netflix acquired the exclusive English streaming rights for the anime series and I am so glad they did because otherwise, I never would have found this show.

The show is set in the region of Britannia and focuses on a once active group of knights called the Seven Deadly Sins. Each member of the group is branded with a tattoo of the sin they represent.

The Seven Deadly Sins were disbanded after they allegedly attempted to overthrow the Kingdom of Liones, even going so far as to brutally murder the Holy Knight Grand Master, the leader of the Holy Knights, a group of soldiers with magical abilities, sworn to protect the Kingdom. The Seven Deadly Sins were supposedly defeated by the Holy Knights, but rumors of their survival were heard throughout the kingdom.

Years later, the Holy Knights have staged a coup d’état and captured the King of Liones, becoming the new, tyrannical rulers of the kingdom. The show opens with the third princess of the kingdom, Elizabeth, searching to find the Seven Deadly Sins so she can enlist their help in taking back the kingdom.

As a non-anime watcher, this show roped me in by about the fourth episode. I did want to know what was going to happen next. I wanted to find all of the Sins, learn who they were and see what abilities they possessed.

The story builds in a wonderful way. We learn more about each character’s back-story and with it, we learn of past betrayals, former partnerships and even previously undiscovered magical abilities.

Look, I can’t tell you whether or not this is one of the best anime out there, because I have only seen this one. I can say, however, that if you have never given this genre a try, this seems like a damn good place to start.

2. Stranger Things

If the Internet has not already convinced you to jump on the Stranger Things bandwagon, then there is not much else I can say to convince you. But I’ll try anyway. I will also attempt to write a totally spoiler-free review of this show so non-watchers, read on.

This show is a standout. It is special. And you should watch it. It is like a combination of E.T., The Goonies and the X-Files and is shot like a good quality 1980s Sci-Fi film.

The show steps back in time from the very onset. The intro music sounds vaguely like the old X-Files theme and the bright red lettering for the show title should give you an inclination from the beginning that the show will step back in time.

The show begins with a disappearance, a mystery that must be unraveled to save a life. Over eight episodes, the show strategically involves a number of characters who all know a piece of information key to solving the mystery, but these characters do not share information until the final episodes. It is suspenseful. It is masterfully crafted.

All of the acting in the show is phenomenal. The child actors are perfectly casted plus Winona Ryder is an absolute dream in this show.

The show has both humor and horror. It is perfectly binge-able and will keep you on the edge of your seat throughout. Let the story build and I promise, you will not be disappointed.

A second season has already been confirmed so jump on the bandwagon early. This show really is as good as the hype will lead you to believe.

1. Narcos

Season two of this amazing show will be released on Sept. 1. I have seriously high hopes for this second season after how impressed I was with the first.

Narcos covers a topic that made headlines for decades, the rise and fall of one of Columbia’s most notorious criminals, the kingpin of the Medellin cartel, Pablo Escobar.

The show is told from dual perspectives: both that of Escobar and from a DEA agent cultivating a case against him. The performance of the actors is outstanding with Wagner Moura playing Escobar and Boyd Holbrook playing DEA agent Steve Murphy.

This show falls in the middle of The Sopranos and The Wire. The Sopranos delves into individual relationships and explores their hidden psychological drives; The Wire focuses more broadly on characters as a part of a larger dysfunctional system.

Narcos falls in the middle. Over ten episodes we learn how Escobar came to power and how the DEA sought to bring him down. The show explores the history of drug laws, the sometimes questionable methods used by law enforcement, gang welfare, bloodbaths and unbelievable smuggling successes.

The show doesn’t dive into Escobar’s motives, making him a terrifying villain and one that you want to learn more about. It is incredibly entertaining and I can’t wait to see where the second season takes us.

Save Point Gamecast- Episode 4: No Man’s Sky and the Price of Gaming

"Music: www.bensound.com"

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Topic of the show- A look at no mans sky and how expensive should games really be. 

News -Final Fantasy 15 Delayed/ 2020 Tokyo Olympics announced by Japanese prime minister in Mario costume/ Metal Gear Survive announced at Gamescon

Games Currently Playing

·       Ben-------Red Dead Redemption

·       Peter------Tell tell Batman

·       Jack----Abzu

The Movie Gang Podcast: Episode 24- Sausage Party

This week the gang competes with the movie Sausage Party to see who can have more potty humor. 

Starring: Peter, Jack, Sarah, and Trevor

"Music: www.bensound.com"

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Sausage Party Overall-------3

·       Jack-------3

·      Sarah-------4

·       Katy-------0

·       Peter------5

·       Trevor----5

Bet Winner: Sarah

Save Point Episode 3- Nintendo NX and the Future of Handheld Games

Topic of the show- Nintendo NX rumors and the future of Handheld devices

News - People are pissed about Pokemon go/ Deus Ex Mankind divided rips of Black Lives Matter

Games Currently Playing

·       Ben-------Kentucky Route Zero Act IV

·       Peter------Sims 4, Journey

·       Jack----Dark Souls (blightown specifically)

"Music: www.bensound.com"

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