Purest of intentions can lead to torment.
House of Flames (1979) – Love can cause as much pain as it can joy; some have died in the name of love. Kihachiro Kawamoto uses Bunraku-style puppetry to tell the tragic tale of a maiden who refuses to choose between two potential suitors, attempting to shield their hearts from rejection with disastrous results. House of Flame is inspired by Noh theater, and features 2D watercolor painted environments combined with stop-motion puppetry and beautiful miniature sets. Presented alongside a traditional, Japanese soundtrack, this animated short is rich with culture and fulfilling.
A priest en route to Tokyo makes a stop in the small village of Ikuta, where he sees women picking herbs. The priest desires to visit the Seeker’s Mound, an old monument in the area. However, none of the group members know the location of the mound. While heading to the river, a young woman is spotted in the mist who offers to lead the priest to it. The landmark serves as a burial ground for the stunning maiden buried there five hundred years ago. Unai-otome lived a life of great devotion to Buddha–she would read his word every morning while finding herself praying at night.
Decisions to make–or not.
Two men from completely different backgrounds–a poet and a warrior–fall madly in love with Unai and send her gifts and love letters. However, she cannot choose between them; if she chooses one, then the other will suffer with grief. Instead, she doesn’t say anything, responding to neither one of the gentlemen. Her silence brings about seemingly endless destruction–not only to her suitors but her own soul in the process.
The puppets themselves are very impressive, although my amusement could not be helped as they are similar to the characters of Robot Chicken. In one particular scene, a horse puppet is featured, and I just found it to be an adorable appearance. Also, are the magnificently sewn costumes and amazing hair of the figures, showing that no corners were cut in this production. While some scenes where the puppets are presented against the watercolor backgrounds look slightly odd, the handbuilt sets are very lovely and were clearly made with skilled craftsmanship.
House of Flame is a gorgeous production recommended to admirers of Japanese culture and those simply looking for a quality animation to watch.