Why do you watch anime? Is it to passively waste away the spare hours of your life, or is it in the faint hope that the next anime you watch will actually make you feel something meaningful? At twelve minutes, La Maison en Petits Cubes will not waste much of your time, but it will move you on a profound and emotional level.
Even at face value, the story is a clever and innovative science-fiction tale, involving a rising sea level that forces our protagonist to build his house higher and higher. When he inadvertently drops a precious item into the sea, he's forced to explore the now sunken buildings of his youth. However, what makes the short touching and universal is not the inventive premise, but the strong metaphorical undercurrent that runs through the work. As the hero rediscovers the ruined remnants of his past, La Maison becomes a wistful meditation on nostalgia and old age, and a potent one at that.
Considering the anime's length, the emotional impact of the story speaks to the deftness with which it is executed. Short films are usually mere passing diversions: an interesting snapshot and nothing more. La Maison en Petits Cubes is the one in a million exception - the rare short film that not only tickles the mind, but challenges the soul.
A primary advantage of animated shorts is that they allow for more artistic freedom than in more profit-minded television series and movies. La Maison is no exception; the visual style is far removed from traditional anime, but is wonderful as a result. With hand drawn backgrounds and a carefully muted color palette, the short is able to exude a warmth and personality that would have been impossible for a more conventional, computer-aided approach.
La Maison has no spoken dialogue, but to call it “silent” would be to ignore the amazing music. Understated and wistful, Kenji Kondo’s soundtrack is a beautiful fit to the bittersweet work.
The only major character in the film is the unnamed protagonist: an old man living in solitude. At first, he is merely an object of curiosity, an obsolete relic to study and decipher. However, as he begins to relive his past life, the man's half-forgotten memories gradually breathe warmth and life into his character. By the time the anime finishes, he becomes both a sympathetic character and a powerful symbol; one sees not the nostalgic loneliness of the protagonist, but of all humanity.
In spite of the pretentious French title, La Maison en Petits Cubes is a gem with universal appeal. This is the second anime to ever win an Academy Award after Spirited Away, and it deserves the accolade. Don’t miss it.
An old man resides in a city mostly submerged by water, living in a home he had to build on top of his old one. His daily routine now consists of smoking his pipe, drinking wine, watching television and eating the fish he catches. Living alone in the silent desolation of the elderly he is surrounded by photographs but no people. One day he drops his pipe into the water and it disappears into his old, submerged home. To retrieve it he rents a scuba suit, but once he descends into the place he used to live he is overwhelmed by the memories of the life he used to have - the family he used to know.