Review: The Red Turtle
Studio Ghibli takes a diversion into the avant-garde with The Red Turtle, a co-production made with French studio Wild Bunch and directed by animator Michael Dudok de Wit (who was hired after his short Father and Daughter made an impression on Hayao Miyazaki).
The story of The Red Turtle is fairly minimalist: a man gets shipwrecked on an island, and in his attempts to build a raft and escape, he is constantly obstructed by a large, magnificent red turtle. From here on out, things take a detour into magical-realism territory, as the man's relationship with the turtle transforms in an unexpected way.
The most predominant aspect of the film is how the story is conveyed without the use of dialogue - an artistic decision which is undoubtedly difficult to pull off, but Dudok de Wit does it here with flying colors, while still being able to connote a lot about humanity as a universal concept. At the centre of the film, feelings, instincts, and gestures are the primary mode of communication, and its in this form that the animation work exceeds to great effect. Done in a traditional style, there is a level of complexity at hand with the character and environment design, that are visually pleasing to a great degree.
The musical score also more than makes up for the lack of dialogue, with stirring compositions provided by Laurent Perez del Mar. Predominantly string-focused, and at times receding to be on equal footing with the sound design of the film's diegetic environment, it adds to the emotional backdrop of the story and accentuates the personal journey at hand.
Running at 80 minutes, The Red Turtle is a short journey, but one which brings with it a lot of tenderness. At its heart, the story is about dealing with the situation one has found themselves in, and adapting to what life provides, no matter how unlikely or unsavoury it may be. There is a lot of philosophy to be mined from the story, and thanks to its striking ambience, it's absolutely worth viewing. It takes the more environmental concerns that we're used to seeing from Studio Ghibli and whittles them down, resulting in something that's on par with the best of the production company to date.