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Score: 8.11/10

Tsumiki no Ie

Eng Title : La Maison en Petits Cubes

Alt Title : The House of Small Cubes

JP Title : つみきのいえ

Year : 2008

Genre : Drama

Season :

Status : Complete

Rating : G - All Ages

Episodes : 1/1

Duration : 12 min.

Studios : Oh! Production


In a flooded town where the waters are ever-rising, an old man must constantly build new floors onto his home in order to keep dry. But when his favorite smoking pipe falls into the watery abyss beneath him, he dives into the depths of not only his house, but memories of years past. Tsumiki no Ie is a short film about the everlasting effect of time on one's life—how it can swallow the past entirely, and how one must learn to continue moving forward despite what has already happened. [Written by MAL Rewrite]

Maison en Petit Cubes is a metaphorical and heartfelt exploration of everything that lies behind an old man`s seemingly meaningless existence. His world is flooded, and all the houses that managed to keep above the water have been stacked like pyramids, with each living space getting progressively smaller. Our lethargic old man`s now jail cell sized room has just been flooded, so he gets to work building yet another, smaller room at the top of his house. As he works, he drops his pipe into the water. Unwilling to part with it, he dawns diving gear and goes through each level of his house to get to the bottom, finding memories associated with each room in the process.

The rich metaphors in this film leave an openness to interpretation that can be mulled over for quite a while. Perhaps the pyramidal structures symbolize how life degrades, and grows progressively emptier until it is but a tiny shard of the fullness it once possessed. Or maybe the little chunk sticking above the water represents how this old man`s life looks insignificant to the outside world, but hidden beneath the surface is the wealth of vivacity that has brought him to this point. Maybe the flooding itself is a nod to rising sea levels and global warming. These ideas are amusing to ponder, but Maison en Petit Cubes does not rely on them to deliver its emotional punch. That comes from its silent and simple story telling.

As the old man explores each room of his house, he dives deeper and deeper into his past. At first, he is stricken with a few sweet memories of his late wife. From the framed pictures on his walls, we already know he cherishes her memory, so these flashbacks are easily passed off as bouts of nostalgia not uncommon for a man his age. As he explores the lower levels, he travels further and further in time, down to the point where the foundations lay, with each level triggering more memories. It becomes clear eventually that it is not simple nostalgia that he experiencing, it`s a retread of his entire life, all of which is held between the walls of his house. The old man is enviable for the beauty of his life; most of us can only hope for an existence as fulfilling and picturesque as his, but he is pitiable for everything that he has lost since his prime. It is these emotions we feel for him, and those that we feel vicariously through him as he evaluates his years that makes this short film so affecting.

Animation & Sound:
The European inspired setting is drawn like a western children`s book. The designs bare no resemblance to conventional Anime visuals. The penciled look and the choppy animations further enhance the children`s book aesthetic. It looks almost like the moving pages of a flip book. The sound and visuals both work together to establish the different moods in this film. Accompanying the old man`s daily life is a deep, but plain color palette, and a guitar string piece that is at once melancholic and playful. His memories are washed in an off white, like the color of old photographs, and played along gentle, but heart wrenching piano or strings. There isn`t any dialogue, and the man has very few facial expressions, or expressive animations in general, but the shift in musical and visual themes gently guide us to the emotions he is experiencing in every scene.

Could such a grand theme like the meaning of life be tackled with anything but a short and silent film? It seems as if a certain pretentious, know-it-all essence would taint any lines regarding the subject. Maison en Petit Cubes gives us full reign of emotional and philosophical interpretation by eliminating words altogether. While that prevents the viewer from perceiving any pretensions, the universality of the emotions it aims to express makes it instantly poignant.

In a matter of 12 minutes, Le Maison en Petits Cubes tells a simple tale of growing old that leaves you staring at your wistful expression on the black screen long after the credits have rolled. This Oscar winning short film (Best Animated Short Film in 2009, making this the second ever anime to win an Oscar, although whether this truly is anime is a debate best left for later) is about a grumpy old man who builds additional levels onto his home in order to escape the water that is flooding his town. While rummaging through the lower levels, he is flooded with memories of his life and how the eternal continuum of time filled his journey with speckles of happiness and inklings of sorrow. With the entire world as a metaphor for life and the passage of time itself, this artsy animated short sends you spiraling down memory lane and as you glimpse through the old man's life, you are posed with questions that we think about but never truly answer: If you were to contemplate on your life right now, what do you think would be the moments that you would take to your grave? How long will the people who matter now in your life be around? Is this what your parents go through and is this what you will go through too? For a "film" with no voice acting, it has a voice, as brief as it may be. To accentuate the wistfulness of Le Maison en Petits Cubes comes a wonderfully orchestrated violin and piano combination that breathes life into the gloomy colors. Speaking of the colors, the animation itself is done in a Van Gough-esque style, much like the one in The Diary of Tortov Riddle. It sometimes feels like you're flipping through the pages of a gloomy picture book. Drenched with meaning, seasoned with style and pregnant with emotions, Le Maison en Petits Cubes is 12 minutes well spent, although the feeling it leaves you with will last much longer.

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