Comparing La Maison en Petits Cubes and Diary of Tortov Roddle
February 27, 2009
Before his Oscar winning La Maison en Petits Cubes (House of Small Cubes), director Kato Kunio was respected among cult anime circles for his collection of animated shorts titled Diary of Tortov Roddle. They are stylistically very similar and there is no denying the immersive beauty of Tortov Roddle. Its art has that soft and grainy texture of a pencil sketch, rendered with great composition and sensitivity to colour. Animation is kept to a minimum while the score is very subdued and appropriate to its whimsical atmosphere.
In my opinion however, such aesthetics are better suited to complement a good story rather than acting as a driving force (as opposed to 1001 nights for example). So while I was thoroughly captivated watching Tortov visit wonderful places, meeting strange people and doing amusing activities, I felt there was something missing behind that fictitious landscape. Diary of Tortov is an exercise of ‘what if’ without ever getting around to ‘what then’. Like Tortov, we are always the observer, watching the charmingly bizarre castle built on top of a gigantic frog without ever visitng it, or handing a flower to a mysterious woman without ever knowing her. Lot of our fascination is derived from the bizarre first impressions we get (thanks to Kunio’s imagination rendered by the aforementioned aesthetics) and speculations as to what may lie beyond it but very little more. That’s where La Maison en Petits Cubes for me, becomes more compelling than Diary of Tortov Roddle.
La Maison en Petits Cubes begins with an old man living alone in a house made up of stack of cubes, where as you can see above, most of them are already beneath the water. It’s a world as bizarre and fascinating as Tortov Roddle, but we are no longer a tourist admiring its enigmatic presence from a distance. We are no longer a stranger speculating why this crazy old geezer is living alone and spending his days building more cubes, just to have it eventually sink under sea again. There’s an intensely sad and beautiful story to be told beneath that water, so much memories and feelings to be uncovered inside those cubes. Memories that are irreplacable, sad inevitability of death and life of loneliness. Presented in that ‘soft’ and ‘subdued’ aesthetics of Tortov Roddle, these powerful feelings slowly creep into us and hits us so emotionally without us ever noticing. La Maison en Petits Cubes is a great piece of art that beautifully complements a great story, and although 2009 arguably wasn’t the greatest year for Oscars, this is one film that truly deserves all the recognition and exposure it will hopefully receive.