The House in Little Cubes (The house of the little cubes) is a 12-minute film created by Kunio Kato and released in 2008. Since its release, it has won several notable awards including Le Cristal d’Annecy at the 32nd Annecy International Animation Film Festival and the Oscar for Best animated short film. Film at the 81st Academy Awards.
Kato’s evocative animation style paints a magical picture of a post-apocalyptic world that has been largely submerged by water. While the film’s story of a lonely retiree who delves deeper and deeper into his past is certainly melancholic, it manages to be equally heartwarming. Kenji Kondo’s poignant score sadly sweeps away every frame and makes up for the short’s lack of dialogue. If this animated masterpiece doesn’t bring audiences to tears, chances are nothing will.
Plot of The House in Small Cubes
The House in Little Cubes tells the story of an elderly widower living in a house mostly submerged in water. Alone, he spends his time fishing, eating and watching shows on his small television until he discovers that his apartment has started to flood again. In an effort to stay dry, he orders materials from a local vendor to begin building an extra level to his house.
Like the steeplejacks of old, the pensioner climbs his house to place brick after brick whatever the weather. After completing his new bedroom, he then begins to move his small collection of possessions room by room in a small rowboat. However, in doing so, he manages to lose his trusty pipe, which falls into the murky depths of the building where he previously resided.
Rather than buy a new pipe, the widower decides to get his hands on some scuba gear and venture into his sunken house to find it. Every room he visits evokes memories of his past, from when he first met his wife to his daughter’s wedding day. While the widower’s journey was initially about retrieving his pipe, it becomes a contemplative journey about life and those he loves.
The importance of family and memories
Initially, it appears that the widower’s life is filled with sadness. He remains alone on an isolated island without the support of his family or friends. However, as the short progresses, it becomes clear that he lived a full life, filled with wonderful times and people. As he delves deeper into the caverns of his apartment complex, his relationships with his wife, daughter, and son-in-law are revealed.
As the people he loves have moved on, the widower seems to find solace in having had the opportunity to experience each of those moments with them. Although he can never create new memories, the fact that he has so many, so dear, is something for which he is eternally grateful.
In the final moments of the short, the widower drinks alone as he did in his overture. However, after his trip, he now sits with two glasses, one for himself and one for his wife. Although not physically present, the retiree learned that she would always be with him in spirit. The House in Little Cubes conveys an important message about the importance of human memory and living life to the fullest while people have the chance.
Themes of environmentalism
The House in Little Cubes has a clear environmental message. The characters in his story are trapped in a liquid wasteland that continually threatens their survival and quality of life. As the widower progresses through his memories, the nature of the world’s rapid decline is brought to light. As he grew up surrounded by green fields, this landscape would quickly change and be consumed by the ocean, throughout his life.
The short film creates a world that is no longer suitable for human life and erases the signs of their existence. However, the use of this theme may not simply be a call for environmental responsibility, but a metaphor surrounding the inevitability of death. As the tides rise, so does the widower’s age and his next encounter with his maker.
The old man’s continual need to build his house higher in order to avoid being swallowed up by the sea demonstrates humanity’s will to survive. However, despite this attempt, nature will inevitably take its course. The widower’s ascension into heaven symbolically refers to Jacob’s ladder and his slow ascent to heaven.
The House in Little Cubes is stunning animation that stirs the heart in many ways that others cannot. The short film paints an evocative picture of life and draws the viewer back, just like the widower, to appreciate those he loves. While many are often engrossed in the day-to-day tasks of life, this animation takes a step back, even if just for a moment, to appreciate how lucky we all are.
Whether it’s the people the audience surrounds themselves with or simply the taste of a hot meal, The House in Little Cubes sends a clear message that viewers should savor every moment. In the end, time is running out and life moves faster than many realize. Like the widower, it is easy to dwell on times gone by; however, rather than seeing the past as lost, it can instead be viewed as something eternal that can never be removed.