When news broke that Studio Ghibli, Japan’s and perhaps the world’s preeminent animation house was to close its doors, animation fans were devastated. Happily news of their demise were greatly exaggerated, with grand master Hayao Miyazaki coming out of retirement with the forthcoming Boro The Caterpillar and with this week’s release of The Red Turtle, a European co-production directed by Dutch first time feature director Michael Dudok de Wit, Ghibli’s magic is alive and well.
A man washes up alone on a desert island. His repeated attempts at escaping the island are thwarted by the intervention of a giant red turtle. Desperate and angry that this mysterious creature stops him from leaving, the man attacks the turtle. In doing so he changes his life in a profound, surprising way.
Though made in Europe with a mostly European animation crew, The Red Turtle contains many of the trademark elements of a Studio Ghibli release. A sense of wonder and sadness that run through the studio’s work is present, from the sheer despair the man experiences as he faces life alone on the island, through to the tearjerking latter stages. There is humour, courtesy of cute comic-relief crabs that nearly scuttle away with the film. Dudok de Wit also brings a sense of realism to island life, embracing the natural world’s workings in a manner Sir David Attenborough would approve of.
But while it shares DNA with My Neighbour Totoro, Ponyo and producer Isao Takahata’s Princess Kaguya amongst other Ghibli hits, it is perhaps closest to the perennial Christmas favourite, The Snowman, in its combination of magic and melancholy. Dudok de Wit chooses an essentially dialogue free landscape that heightens the isolation the man feels on the island, allowing the visuals to tell the story. The animation style is distinct from other mainstream animation with clear, simple lines and bold colouring telling the story effectively. The visual grandeur is complemented by a wonderful score by Laurent Perez Del Mar, full of lush strings, enchanting pipes and heart-breaking vocals.
A film like The Red Turtle is best to know as little as possible prior to viewing. Though the narrative is slight, there are enough surprises housed in its 80 minute run time to recommend avoiding spoilers if possible. And despite the marketing of the film had tipped the hat to certain plot elements, it doesn’t dilute the dreamlike experience the film offers.
The Red Turtle is released in select cinemas nationwide 26th May