I first heard of The House of Small Cubes (aka La Maison en Petits Cubes or Tsukimi no Ie) ages ago, probably in 2010 or 2011. It was likely the most known short anime film at the time, and it won the 2009 Oscar for Best Animated Short Film. I watched it and found it pretty emotional.
The first thing that struck me is how alone the old man is (barring the person who gives him bricks). Before we even see him, we know that his wife has passed away. Loneliness pervades the scene further with the zoom out of his house, where we see that a vast ocean surrounds him. He is also the only light shining at night amidst the abandoned houses. It paints a picture of this world now belonging to him, where he expands it brick-by-brick in solitude. The memories of his wife helping him with the task make his flashbacks more bittersweet. But in his present situation, everyone has left his story.
The man keeps adding layers to the house, but the surface area of each subsequent level gets smaller. Inevitably, there will be a point at which it can’t go higher. Time will stop for him. The future will then cover his memories, rendering them a small part of a much larger world. The world can’t evolve with these old things continuously kicking about, can it? But despite that, they will remain in some form, and the man still carries his memories within him. The wine glass found at the lowest layer of the house shows that the souls of those who used it still reside in the depths. It’s a lingering memory of what used to be and of a world you can’t go back to.
The man dives back into the past, his face turning away from the future. I like that there is first-person perspective used. It feels like we ourselves are also going through portals to fantasy lands. The sizes of the rooms grow the further into the past he goes. It makes me think that as you’re younger, the world seems like an open blank canvas for you to draw on. Before the house had first come to life, we see in the field that the man and his past wife are running free. So are the birds flying in the air. As you get older, you become more set in your ways and can’t relate to the young’uns anymore. Very importantly, death approaches. There’s still room for exploration, but it shrinks the older you get.
When the man finds his smoking pipe and experiences his first flashback, he decides to keep diving. He wants to chase that blissful past and seek something more than the physical object he wanted. When thinking of objects we own, we don’t only consider that we have them. We also have associated memories. Here’s a personal example: my Pikachu plush.
I wouldn’t have saved it from the trash bin if my mum hadn’t called me at a specific moment, causing me to look out my window. It would’ve been swept away by a cruel world! THE HORROR! Anyway, the point is that this idea matters to me. Please hug your plushies.
In the end, there’s a newfound spirit within the man. Reminiscing is important to see how you’ve gotten to where you are now and to remember what matters to you. The man cheers to his wife, finding peace in knowing that it was all worth it, but that life continues. As I live my life, this is a reminder that it will ultimately end and that I must learn to accept it. But even after many trials, tribulations and solitary reflections on the past, there will still be seagulls flying outside.