“THE RED TURTLE” is the new animation movie from the famous Ghibli studio. It’s the first non-Japanese film produced by this studio and was directed by Dutchman, Michael Dudok de Wit.
Executed in a clean simple style that reminded me of the “Tin Tin” books it tells the fable of a shipwrecked man who is washed ashore having miraculously survived the pounding of a terrifying storm. The castwaway finds himself stranded on a lonely desert island; a place animated only by the winds that rattle its bamboos, the screeches of the birds – themselves symbols of freedom- that mock his landlocked incarceration and by the occasional downpours that rumble in like thundering threats. It is a place he must escape from. But every attempt – in large meticulously constructed bamboo rafts – watched over by a chorus of skittish crabs, ends in failure. Some unseen monster of the deep keeps, literally, upsetting his plans. The monster turns out to be a large red turtle which the shipwrecked man is moved to kill, as though the creature’s death could open the door to his freedom. But the turtle is less an animal, more a mysterious being, perhaps an incarnation of the synergy between nature and fate or destiny. Harm one and woe be unto you. And maybe the island itself represents the solitude of the self, from which the only escape can be in one’s dreams and fantasies.
As you’d expect from this studio, the animation (using only six animators) and an extraordinary sound design, is stunning. The entire movie, (especially with its incredible renderings of water – from the sea, both clam and furious to glassy reflecting ponds and lashing rain) is really a visual nature poem. The humans who ‘carry’ what little there is of the (entirely wordless) story are often insignificant specks…mere playthings of the elements which operate, like the ancient animist gods, on their own moral code.
And yet, there’s something slightly unsatisfying about the movie. For all its brilliant animation (and it’s worth seeing if only for this), the story feels muddled and unresolved. Perhaps in its inconclusive ending, there’s a zen dimension at work here: life ends without any real finality; even though there is death, nature simply rolls on in its implacable way.
THE RED TURTLE. Dir: Michael Dudok de Wit. Writers: Michael Dudok de Wit and Pascale Ferran. Animation Supervisor: Jean-Christophe Lie. Sound Editor: Alexandre Fleurant