Just when you think you’ve seen the last of Studio Ghibli, up they pop with two releases just months apart. After announcing last summer that they were shutting down in-house feature production, to coincide with the retirement of their talismanic co-founder, Hayao Miyazaki, your average Ghibli fan (ie: me) is currently spoilt. Not only do we have the return of Hayao Miyazaki to look forward to (retirement clearly not to his liking), with his return to feature-length animation, due sometime over the next two years (Boro the Caterpillar), we can also enjoy the delights of Ronja the Robber’s Daughter, a tv anime currently streaming on Amazon Prime Instant Video here in the UK, created and directed by son-of-Hayao, Goro Miyazaki, co-produced by Studio Ghibli, and based on the Astrid Lindgren book. And then there is The Red Turtle.
Co-produced by Wild Bunch (the renowned international distribution company), what marks The Red Turtle out from Ghibli’s filmography is that it has the unique status of being their first produced feature-length animation to be directed by a non-Japanese animator. That honour goes to the Academy Award-winning director, Michael Dudok de Wit; his short animated film, Father and Daughter, won in that category back in 2001, also scooping a BAFTA, amongst other gongs. But this not your usual Ghibli fare, and the film is notable in that it is produced by Isao Takahata rather than Miyazaki-san. Thematically, this makes sense, as Takahata’s output (eg Grave of the Fireflies, The Tale of Princess Kaguya) is generally more complex and, well, bleaker, than Miyazaki’s films.
The Red Turtle’s plot is a deceptively simple one; a man is shipwrecked in a storm and washed upon an island. He makes numerous attempts to leave the island on log rafts but each time he does so his raft is attacked by a giant red turtle. When one day the man sees that the red turtle has come ashore, he attacks it, inadvertently setting in motion a fantastical sequence of events that transform his life, and the film’s momentum. The trailer pretty much gives away the central plot twist but I won’t do you that disservice, in case you wish to come to the film fresh. Also worth noting, is that the film is dialogue free, relying on its beautiful score by Laurent Perez Del Mar (resembling in part Michael Nyman’s haunting score for The Claim), and its evocative sound design.
With the film not beholden on dialogue to forward its story, this places the onus on the skill of the animators and their director, and they do not disappoint. Dudok de Wit admirably avoids cliché in achieving a beguiling fable about the raw trials of life. The island setting is captured beautifully, existing on the border between realism and impressionism. The film is at once a hopeful, joyful ode to humanity, with many touches of humour throughout that is also unafraid to depict man’s hubris. Whilst it has universal appeal, the film has many contemplative moments and some of the more mature elements might fly over the heads of younger viewers. However, The Red Turtle achieves more in its 80 minutes than many films do in twice the run time, and is yet another great film to come from Studio Ghibli. Hopefully this is not the last time Michael Dudok de Wit collaborates with the great animation studio of Miyazaki and co.
Director: Michael Dudok de Wit
Writers: Michael Dudok de Wit (story), Pascale Ferran (screenplay) | 1 more credit »
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