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.


Diary of Tortov Roddle

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.


Just who built these houses made of cubes? And why is it sinking?


Everyone else is moving their home but he alone stays, building more cubes just to stay afloat.

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.

la maison


10 Responses to “Comparing La Maison en Petits Cubes and Diary of Tortov Roddle”

  1. animekritik Says:

    looking at the pics, i like the art in the diary more than in la maison, though both are very nice. is there actual dialogue in these films?

  2. dm00 Says:

    I don’t believe there is dialogue in either film, no. Tortov Roddle has chapter titles, but they’re simple (and I don’t recall them being very important).

    I agree that La Maison is the more interesting and compelling work. As you say, Roddle is a tourist, already an onlooker to events, and we viewers are therefore twice removed from a lot of the action. In La Maison we are able to see inside the old man’s head — bringing us much closer to the action and the emotional content of the film.

  3. gaguri Says:

    No dialogues, pictures do the talking. I like the art in Diary bit more as well, but the visuals in La Maison is, I think, toned down a notch in terms of ‘fancyness’ to give more emphasis on the content 🙂

    Great minds think alike! Thanks for so succinctly summarising my points in just few sentences.

  4. omisyth Says:

    I feel I should check out Diary of Tortov Roddle since it seems to partially resemble Kino no Tabi. There’s simply something about a traveller visiting new and unknown worlds that’s fascinating to me.

  5. Kitsune Says:

    I have not seen Diary of Tortov Roddle, but just finished La Maison en Petits Cubes and posted a brief photoessay. The film didn’t impress me, but I liked color and texture.

    Speaking of stories without dialog, Genius Party included some creative works.

  6. gaguri Says:

    It is similar in that ‘traveller visits strange places’ vein, although Kino actually gets to explore and deal with the bizarre machinations of each world, while our trips in Tortov Roddle are always brief. Anyway, I highly recommend Diary of Tortov Roddle, it’s a really relaxing and visually fascinating.

    Oww that’s a shame, I personally loved it. Last night I watched it again and it was just as powerful.

    I have yet to watch Genius Party because few episodes are apparently still not subbed. It is my plan to watch them whole as an anthology series.

  7. Sasa Says:

    I don’t think Genius Party is ever going to be subbed, because there is at least one part that seems very difficult to translate. But there’s alwas hope, of course…

    Apart from that, dm00 has been saying everything I might have wanted to say, heh.

  8. gaguri Says:

    One can always hope…or not. I might as well watch what has been subbed and the rest in raw :/

  9. Genius Party has been subbed because it has shown at film festivals. It is showing at the Nippon Connection festival in Frankfurt, Germany next month.

  10. gaguri Says:

    Are you talking about Genius Party as a short or as an anthology series? Either way festival or not, I have no means to watch it subbed all of them so…:(

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