Imagination & Kubo and the Two Strings


I once went a year without eating bread. It wasn’t a fast or a health kick or anything noble like that. I’m allergic to gluten and moved overseas to work in a country without gluten-free anything. It also happened to be a country without unlimited internet. Each month I would save up my data to Skype family back home or stream a movie. One month I used all my data spending seven hours downloading Rogue One, which never made it to the theater in the town where I lived.

I’d been in my new country for four months when my mom sent over some DVDs. Mixed in amongst some new releases I’d been excited to see was a random movie my mom saw and thought I would like called Kubo and the Two Strings. It looked interesting, but I set it to the side because it also looked dangerous. I was three months into the deep grief of the death of a cherished friend, and Kubo and the Two Strings looked like it could be just honest enough to send me back into the darkness I thought I had crawled my way out of. So, I stuck the DVD on my desk and forgot it existed until months later, as monsoon rains pounded outside. Slipping the DVD into my laptop, surrounded by the cool, rainy air, I was only hoping for something entertaining to pass the time. Instead, what I discovered was a work of art my imagination would use to change my life.

Kubo: If you must blink, do it now. Pay careful attention to everything you see and hear, no matter how unusual it may seem. And please be warned: If you fidget, if you look away, if you forget any part of what I tell you—even for an instant—then our hero will surely perish.

Kubo and the Two Strings

The above lines are spoken by a young boy named Kubo, the protagonist of Kubo and the Two Strings, as the movie opens. From the moment I heard these words, my heart slowed in my chest. Something about them rang true, but what they meant I was yet unsure. As the movie progressed, I learned that Kubo is a storyteller full of joy and imagination, but one who is familiar with suffering and grief in his young life. Throughout the movie, he is hunted by one who seeks to steal his joy, imagination, suffering, and grief—one who seeks to steal his humanity. As Kubo flees his pursuer, he is forced to reckon both with the anguish of loss and what it means to be the one still living. I walked away from this movie with a tiny part of myself healed, but I was back home in America before I was able to give voice as to why. My imagination latched onto an exchange between Kubo and his pursuer that made everything fall into place.

Moon King: Everything you loved is GONE! Everything you knew has been TAKEN from you!

Kubo: No… it’s in my memories. The most powerful kind of magic there is. It makes us stronger than you’ll ever be. These are the memories of those we have loved and lost. And if we hold their stories deep in our hearts…then you will never take them away from us.

Kubo and the Two Strings

I had been angry since my friend died. Not so much that she had died, but that so many people only seemed to want me to feel better about it. They wanted me to be glad she was no longer suffering. They wanted me to only remember the good times with her and forget the bad. Forget the ache of knowing she was dying for over a year. Forget the utter wrongness of her death. For months I had been raging over it and could not figure out why…until my imagination showed me.

God does not forget, even for an instant, the stories of every single person who is gone.

Hannah Mitchell

The memories of my friend are carved deep into my heart, and the stories held there are the only thing not even death can take away from me. But if I blink or look away, if I choose to forget any part of those stories, then my hero will surely perish. To choose to only remember the good like so many wanted would mean forgetting the fullness of my friend’s story. All of her life was precious, not just the parts that hurt less than others. I won’t let my desire for a little less pain loosen my hold on the memories of my friend nestled safely in my heart. Because these memories, they’re a magic stronger than death. And as I live on, they do nothing but make me strong.

Even as my anger soothed and my soul’s wounds began to heal, I still had a problem: God. For months after my friend died, people had been telling me all the peace God wanted to offer me or what great things God would do through this part of my story—how great my testimony would be. Somewhere deep inside me, I felt like maybe God wanted me to forget the pain too. And that was something I just couldn’t do. But as my imagination continued to do its work with Kubo’s story, it helped me understand something about God.

Unlike people who tried to soothe my pain, part of the comfort God offered me was to never flinch or look away. God saw my pain and knew not to try to make me feel better, but to sit with me in the endless ache. God knows the only thing that can slightly lessen the pain of death is for it to be seen and known. So Jesus wept. And God does not forget, even for an instant, the stories of every single person who is gone.

What I experienced in Kubo and the Two Strings may not be life altering to anyone but me. That’s the magic of the imagination: it’s as unique as the person in whom it exists. Every single one of you may watch Kubo’s story and find a different moment that shapes you most, or you may even take a different meaning from the same moments I shared about here, but none of that makes any of us wrong. Your imagination is yours, not mine or anyone else’s. It will find meaning and beauty and the truth of God in art that no one else may ever know. The mystery of it is precisely what makes it so beautiful.

So, I invite you now to share in the comments below your own moments of imagination working. Share your favorite lines from a book, movie, song, TV show, or comic, and why they mean so much to you. Share a painting or a photograph that touched you and how it made its impact known. Share the blustery winter day that taught you about God. No, we may not find the moments you share as wondrous as you. But we will know that for you, they are something of unspeakable beauty. And for that reason alone, they should be seen, known, and loved.

Click here to read “Imagination as an Agent of Healing (Part 1 of 3)” and here to read “Imagination as a Spiritual Practice” (Part 2 of 3).”


  1. Evan Travers

    I have a similar feeling every time I read Til We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. I am carried along until with Orual I realize I’m the villain, not the hero… but still beloved by grace and love beyond imagining. 

  2. Reagan Dregge

    A scene that has always stuck with me is from Spirited Away, when Chihiro is overcome with grief and weariness, and Haku shares some food with her. The kindness of that communion gives me strength and courage.

  3. Shannon Foust

    One of the last lines of Helena Sorenson’s _The Door on Half-Bald Hill_
    “He carried us with him when he conquered death.  He carried us with him when he opened the gates of glory.”
    It had been a hero’s journey for the sake of his tribe, and then unexpectedly he was revealed a Christ-figure.  (Maybe I just didn’t see it until the end.)  And if I ever get a tattoo, this and a line from John Donne (“like gold to airy thinness beat”) are the top contenders.  

  4. Chad

    When my wife and I conceived after along bout with infertility back in 2014, we had many fears about carrying the baby to term. When my wife began experiencing pains in the 6th and 7th week we feared the worst. During this time it was a line from my favorite film, The Shawshank Redemption, that I clung to like a lifeline.
    “Hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things. And no good thing ever dies.”
    That line became a personal mantra going into our first ultrasound at 8 weeks, and it still brings my eyes to mist when I remember that time. For us the story ends happily: our ultrasound revealed that the pains were occurring because we were pregnant with twins! Today they are about to turn 7 yrs old. I’ll never forget those few weeks, though, when the transcendence of cinema connected me to the truths of God in a way no mere counselor ever could.

  5. Steven V Jones

    For some years now I have returned to these lines from the Dan Fogelberg song” Souvenirs”:
    And here is the keyTo a house far awayWhere I used to liveAs a child.They tore down the buildingWhen I moved awayAnd left the key unreconciled.
    Imagining the key, now without its house, has been a most haunting and moving image for me. Certainly because of the nostalgia of a time that is now past and can’t be revisited. And because of the sense of one having lost the purpose which was once so obvious. But, I think even more, I resonate with the inconsolable longing, the sehnsucht as several in this context have named it, of a home we seek and yet never find in our lifetimes. Jennifer Trafton spoke of this deep and mysterious longing in a 2016 column on the Welsh word “hiraeth,” homesickness for a place we never had, never knew, and yet feel drawn toward. And the unreconciled key also tugs on the same hope/joy/sorrow that Drew Miller expresses in  his lyric “Lord would you make me to thirst, only to withhold the water?” (Death of a Dream).

  6. Michael

    In a description of Pontmercy in Les Mis, Hugo writes, “By dint of care and toil and watering he had added to the Creator’s creation.” Whether with flowers or a myriad other occupations or tasks, we all can make beauty in our own little plot. That plot may be a square of dirt or a square desk. But both need care and toil and watering. And that line continues to encourage me that I am not chasing the limelight but am instead seeking to be faithful today to create beauty in this world, to bear the image of my Maker that someone else might get a glimpse or a full on view of God. 

  7. Britney

    Sitting in my favorite coffee shop two months ago, looking out the window as the winter sun set on the barren trees, mug of coffee, book of poetry, tears in my eyes. I realize what a spiritual moment it is, I realize that I actually do love my life, that I actually want to go back home to all the little people that sometimes make me want to leave. I feel the transcendence of being a part of something so much larger than myself, and yet somehow still not unimportant. The miracle of God circumventing all the spiritual abuse at the hands of the church and the printed words of the Bible, to meet me in a coffee shop on a winter afternoon when I feel so empty, to fill me up with a sunset and coffee and poems. Is anything impossible for God? 

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