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Posts Tagged ‘Japanese dragons’

This, to me, is the movie of the year. Certainly it’s the best animated movie — sorry, Zootopia fans — and possibly the best movie over all. Kubo has a terrific story, great imagination and a respectful depiction of Japanese folklore. It was made by Laika, the studio that specializes in a distinctive animation/stop motion hybrid. Previous films from Laika include Neil Gaiman’s Coraline and ParaNorman.

The lead character is Kubo, a one-eyed young boy who struggles to care for his mother, who is very ill. In the daytime, Sariatu exists in a daze, while at night she is cheerful and loving. Kubo gets money by telling stories in the markeplace, using an instrument called the shamisen to bring his origami figures to magical life. The stories he tell involve a powerful samurai, Hanzo, who dared gather enchanted weapons and armor that would allow him to take on the terrible Moon King. Kubo doesn’t tell the villagers that Hanzo, in fact, was his own father.

Sariatu makes Kubo promise that he will never venture outside at night, because the Moon King is still hunting him. He’s the one who stole Kubo’s eye, and he wants the second one, too. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story if Kubo kept his promise. Grieving for his lost father, he attends a lamp-lighting ceremony that is interrupted by his vicious aunts, Sariatu’s sisters. Sariatu appears, sacrificing her own life so that Kubo can escape.

I can’t say much more without spoiling things. There are chases, races, funny moments and amazing battles. There’s also an awesome dragon, very like the Asian-style dragon kite I mentioned in a post last year. Raiden, the Moon King, assumes this form for the final confrontation. It’s a dragon like you’ve never seen before.

If you’ve heard that Kubo and the Two Strings is a great movie, you’ve heard right. Beg, borrow or rent this movie. You won’t regret it.

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This draconic legend is something of an oddity. It was published in 1918 as part of Richard Gordon Smith’s volume, Ancient Tales and Folk-Lore of Japan. However, many aspects are more reminiscent of European dragon lore. Even the author admitted that the tale couldn’t be authenticated as Japanese. This raises a question: where did the story come from?

Sometime in the 1300s, there lived a samurai named Shima Oribe, who fell into disgrace and was banished by his lord, Takatoki Hojo. Shima was commanded to live on an island called Kamishima, in the Oki island group. Oribe had a beautiful daughter, about 18, named Tokoyo. She was devoted to her father, as he was to her. Alone in her house, she wept for over a year.

When Tokoyo could no longer bear the loneliness and grief, she set off to find her father. She was a courageous young woman who knew how to sail and had learned how to swim from the women of her village. At times, she even dove with them to collect oysters and awabi (abalone). Having sold a few of her fine possessions, Tokoyo made her way to a village called Akasaki, where the Oki Islands could be seen in the distance. She asked the local fishermen to take her there, but her money was nearly gone. They refused to help her.

Tokoyo had a bold heart. She found a small boat and sailed off on her own. Coming to land, she searched for her father. He was not there, so she sailed on, from island to island, day after day, always searching. Despairing, she found a sheltered place to rest on land.

Wait a minute — wasn’t there supposed to be a dragon in this story? Yofune something? Check back on Saturday and see if he shows up!

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