AKA: Tsukimi no Ie, La Maison en Petits Cubes
Year Released: 2008
Distributor: Unlicensed (streaming distribution by Netflix)
Running Time: 12 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: G
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Rain Town, Wrinkles, Kurogane Communication
-The House of Small Cubes won an Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. This was huge because not only was this short film produced by an independent company, but this beat out Presto which was a Pixar short film (as seen as an opener to Wall-E) that very same year. Let me reiterate this: a tiny animation studio won against one of the most famous studios that’s also a freaking Disney subsidiary. That’s unheard of!
-Director Kunio Kato has also worked on The Diary of Tortov Roddle which is an experimental short film anime series.
Short animated films have been on my radar. They save me some time as I try to do this reviewing thing as I deal with work and other things involving life. I randomly stumbled upon this little animated film that won an Oscar of all things. This would be my second review involving an Oscar winning project right after the short documentary The White Helmets. With some unknown short getting an Academy Award of all things, I just had to check it out despite my feelings about that award ceremony.
The House of Small Cubes is about an old man living in a multi-storied house. He lives in a post-apocalyptic town there most of the buildings and people are submerged. The old man spends his days being inside, smoking his pipe, and fishing with a hatch that opens up to reach the water beneath the giant house. On one day, his pipe goes down the fishing hatch and he gets scuba gear to try and find it in the lower levels of his home affected by the ascending waters. What happens is an unexpected trip down memory lane as flashbacks of his earlier days show up as he finds submerged trinkets from his life.
That short film may be considered anime given it’s Japanese origin, but this has to be the most un-anime thing I’ve ever seen out of the Land of the Rising Sun. Seriously, the character designs are very Westernized and the backgrounds remind me of something European instead of Japanese, let alone Asian. If you told me that The House of Small Cubes was made in France or Belgium, then I would have believed you in a heartbeat. With that being said, the animation is gorgeous. Most of the scenes are done in an old-world sepiatone while the underwater scenes use the deepest aquamarines. The coloration invokes a sense of nostalgia and dreariness in this flooded town. There’s so much fluidity yet so much rough textures that really work with this animated short. Much like Rain Town which came after this one, there’s no dialogue, so the story revolves around the actions of the main character as one sees what his life was like as he tries to retrieve his sinking pipe. It was heartwarming seeing his life in flashbacks as the old man views everyday objects. One example involves a couch that’s underwater in the house. He then envisions himself in the past taking pictures of his family including his grandchildren. It gets even more heart-wrenching as he sees a bed just a few levels below. The memory that’s triggered is him comforting his dying wife. Man, that just hit me in the feels once that and other memories play in his mind as he descends to what would be considered the ocean floor in his hometown. The final scene really brings those memories in perspective and really drive the point home about the man’s life as a whole. You might want some tissue there.
While Small Cubes was a powerful watch, I couldn’t ignore some flaws. There’s no explanation as to why the entire town is flooded. The damage would clearly be cataclysmic and one can infer from the flashbacks that way more people lived here before the flood as one sees several houses on solid ground decades prior to the events of the film. Was it climate change? Was it a coastal town with an atrocious dam that leaked? Was it aliens? I don’t know, and I wish they would’ve expounded on how the town was deluged to begin with. I also wondered what happened to the rest of his family besides his dead wife. I assume they all fled for higher ground or went to another town that didn’t deal with all this water damage, but that’s only based on a random guess though.
The House of Small Cubes was an excellent short film that I never even heard of. The level of creativity was astounding in how the house played a part of the old man’s character and how he adapted to this waterlogged Tartaros around him. The light acoustic music was great as it was gentle and not overly distracting to the events in this film. The storyline does have a few holes in it, but the positives outweigh the negatives. Trust me, this will play at your heartstrings as you watch it. I really want to see more of Kunio Kato’s work to see if the rest of his filmography is as good as this. Granted, Small Cubes isn’t going to be on the radars of those that want Shonen Jump action, moe cuteness, Shojo femininity, or something that’s straight-up otaku bait. Those with open minds and can see animation as an art form should definitely give this a watch.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you like surreal animation.
Subtract 2-5 points if you really want your anime to look like typical anime in it’s presentation.
-Amazing animation and lighting
-Great acoustic soundtrack
-Brilliant usages of flashbacks to round out the story
-Un-anime like aesthetics will throw off the average viewer let alone otaku
-Plot holes in the world building
-Can be too abstract
Final Score: 9/10 points
Content Warning: It’s a safe watch overall. The old man does smoke out of a pipe and drink wine, but that’s the worst thing about it when it comes to objectionable content.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. The House of Small Cubes is property of Robot Communications. The DVD cover is from Amazon and is property of Robot Communications.