Currently gracing select cinema screens is The Red Turtle, which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival 2016. Co-produced by Studio Ghibli and the Wild Bunch, and directed by Dutch-British animator Michael Dudok de Wit, it will steal your heart without saying a word.
The Red Turtle has no dialogue and while its story initially seems simple, it’s surprisingly complex and emotional. A nameless man washes up on a beautiful deserted island. Several times he builds a raft in the hopes of escaping but it is repeatedly destroyed by a mysterious red turtle. Enraged by the turtle’s interference, the man takes its life only for it to turn into a beautiful woman.
The Red Turtle explores a wide range of themes, from separation to family to rebirth, purely through its imagery. With the exception of a few shouts, the characters do not speak. The film is emotionally compelling and the characters engaging because there is so much they cannot convey to the audience. Where did the man come from? What does the red turtle represent? Are we dreaming? There is a lot that is not explained by the end of the film but that hardly matters because it is so beautifully depicted.
The animation, as you would expect from Studio Ghibli, is fantastic. While The Red Turtle may not be instantly recognised as being from the same studio that brought us Spirited Away or Princess Mononoke, it has many of the hallmarks of a Ghibli film. The movement of the sea creatures is hypnotic and the island carefully crafted and meticulously detailed. Nothing feels rushed or amateurishly done. The people themselves are animated differently from their Studio Ghibli counterparts (I’m tempted to say more rustic), but their distinct lack of dialogue does not mean they are not fully-fleshed characters.
As you would expect from a silent film, music is vital. It is expertly executed to add to the characters’ terror, despair and joy. The soundtrack, composed by Laurent Perez del Mar, is gorgeous and the music will stay with you after you have finished watching. The soundtrack and the film itself took years to produce. Michael Dubok de Wit was directly approached by Studio Ghibli who asked him to direct a film. That’s quite an honour!
The Red Turtle is an essential watch. It’s unique, emotionally compelling and an excellent addition to Studio Ghibli’s portfolio. Here’s the trailer, not that you should need any more persuasion…