Le Maison en Petits Cubes is the story of a man living in flooded world, traveling back through the life he lived and drowning in the memories that he discovers along the way.
Summary and General Thoughts
Le Maison en Petits Cubes is a 12 minute Japanese animated short released in 2008, and it is one of the most unique pieces of media that I have seen in my life. The film follows an older man living in a flooded town, adding layers to his home as the water rises. The film starts with the man waking up to the water levels rising, and we watch him as he builds another layer onto his house and transports his life up another 10 feet. As the old man is moving his belongings, with the help of a rowboat, he drops his favorite smoking pipe into the water and it falls through the trapdoors in the floor and lands a few layers below. The man acquires a scuba suit, and industry that definitely saw success in this flooded world, and travels down through the layers of his house to retrieve his pipe.
As he travels downwards, he is reminded of moments in his life that took place on each layer, allowing him to travel backward in time through his life, all the way back to before the flooding had started. We see memories of him running in the yard as a child, having dinner with his wife, meeting his daughter's boyfriend and then attending their wedding, caring for his sick wife, and sitting alone in his one-room skyscraper. This short film tells the wonderful story of this man's life, and the world he is living in, and it does it without any dialogue. This film's only audio is a soft piano track playing in the background of each scene.
This film is a truly magical twelve minutes, and I recommend that everyone takes the time to watch it. That statement may make my climate rating confusing, however, this film is very much up to interpretation, and holds many messages within it. You can watch the film here, and I recommend that you watch it and take whatever message it delivers to you.
Climate Rating: 3/5. The only real reference this short film makes to climate change is the flooding of Earth, but the whole film is about what happens because of that. For that reason, it is one of the pieces I recommend most, as it makes you think. Other films, shows, books, and documentaries will provide the information you need to form an educated opinion, but none of them make you stop and think the way that Le Maison en Petits Cubes does. I recommend that everyone watches it, maybe even more so than the other content I've covered.
Thoughts on the Content
Since Le Maison en Petits Cubes is not very science-focused and doesn't provide any information that needs fact-checking, much of the analysis moving forward will be my personal thoughts and reactions to the film.
The first thing that stood out to me in this film was just how frequently the man was smoking. You'd think in a world where the world flooded (assuming this was in our world where they were probably warned of this future) you would be more careful about things that were proven to be harmful. Immediately after thinking this, I thought about how this man was all alone, isolated from the people around him, and I realized that he probably doesn't care about his health. The world has collapsed and is barely a society, instead, it is just individuals climbing eternally to prolong their lives.
This train of thought led me to think about what kind of world we want to create for ourselves and future generations. I know that I do not want to live in a world where we are all isolated and simply running from the world we created in hopes of prolonging our lives. Living amid the COVID-19 pandemic where we have been isolated from one another, it is clear that the choices we make can greatly impact our day to day lives, and if there were something we could have done to prevent this I imagine everyone would agree that it should have been done. This thinking is why I feel that taking action against climate change is the clear path forward. I don't want the next generation to be building layer upon layer to their houses simply to survive.
As we follow the man through the house and we live through his memories, the most impactful message that I found was the difference between his childhood and the life that his daughter led. When the man steps outside on the ground floor, we see a memory of him chasing his future wife around a tree on a nice day. This contrasts the life of his daughter, who grew up in a world that was flooded, a world where she couldn't run around outside. When watching this, all I could think was "what experiences do we have now that the next generation doesn't deserve to experience"? Realistically, equating this to our world, if we end up living in skyscrapers to escape rising sea levels it will be due to the decisions and actions of the past generations. If we know that this is a potential outcome and we choose to not change the path we are on, it means that we are making the conscious decision to rob the past generations of the life we were able to live. Is there any real reason why we deserve the life we have, but future generations don't?
POTENTIAL SPOILER HERE
On the bottom level of the house, we see a memory of the man having dinner with his wife when they moved in together where they cheers their wine glasses, and after the memory ends we see the wife's wine glass on the floor. The man picks it up to take back with him along with his pipe. When the man is sitting down for dinner that night, he pours himself and his wife a glass of wine and clinks the glasses the same way they did in the memory, and the film ends. We know that the wife passes away before the present, but we do not know what the cause was. The image of the man clinking his glass alone is one of the most heartbreaking things I've seen in a long time. In a world where more people die each year due to the effects of climate change, it makes me worry if many of us will end up clinking our glasses alone at night, or if it will be our loved ones alone.
Every image in the film is thought-provoking, and I've only gone over those that stood out the most to me. As I mentioned previously, this is a silent animated short film, and I do believe that this was an intentional choice to deliver the message that the team wanted to deliver.
Thoughts on the Medium
Considering that this film won the Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film back in 2009, I truly think that every choice made was intentional. The medium, the lack of dialogue, and the length all play a role in delivering the message that the film sets out to deliver.
This is probably the easiest question to answer in terms of the medium, which is that it would have been very difficult and very expensive to tell this story in a live-action medium. In addition to this, animation allows much more freedom to tell a story in the exact way you want to. I also think that it adds another layer to the film: art and art style. I think that having a unique art style allowed Le Maison en Petits Cubes to make other artistic choices, like the lack of dialogue.
Why silent, and why a simple piano score?
I believe that the main purpose behind making this film silent is to deliver a very simple message: actions speak louder than words. Concerning climate change, I think that this is the message that is the most fitting. In a world where countries and corporations are starting to pledge commitments to reduce their emissions but continue to pass legislation favoring the fossil fuel industry, it shows where their true interests lie. You can make whatever commitments you want, even if those commitments won't make enough of a difference, but if you continue to act in contradicting ways to those commitments they no longer hold any meaning. I would rather not have commitments made and instead have actions taken that would be actively making a difference to the problem. Actions speak louder than words, and we should be pushing for actions rather than claims.
Why so short?
I think length is very important for all content. I look at a show like Breaking Bad where they chose to end it because there was nothing left to say, versus a show like Two and a Half Men that kept running, even when the stars of the show were no longer a part of it. Le Maison en Petits Cubes took exactly the time it needed to tell its story. I also think that it also wanted to deliver the message that life is short, and we should make the best choices we can. This man clearly lived an eventful life, but in the end, he was still able to travel through his memories in 12 minutes. Life is short, and we should not be making our lives even shorter by turning our world into a world similar to the one found in Le Maison en Petits Cubes.
Le Maison en Petits Cubes is not necessarily about climate change, but it isn't necessarily about anything. The film is very thought-provoking, and I think that every person who watches it will take a different meaning from it. As I mentioned before, I think that everyone should take 12 minutes to watch this, as there is something to be gained. Whether you focus on the flooded world and the message it is delivering about climate change, or you focus on making the time you have valuable, this film will give you something to think about. Life is short for all of us, let's make sure that we allow future generations to have the same quality of life as we were able to have.