The Red Turtle is a Studio Ghibli film, though it was created and directed by award-winning Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit instead of the Ghibli team itself. It contains stunning visuals and masterful direction, but does the fact it has no dialogue at all hurt the experience?
The story itself is a simple one… to start with. A man gets shipwrecked on a desert island and begins to do the usual things: hunt for food, build shelter, that kind of thing, as well as building a raft. He attempts to leave the island using the raft but it gets broken by a large red turtle, leading the man to try a few more times with the same result, leaving him rather mad (despite having no dialogue, the lead does scream in anger, among other noises, it’s not literally a silent film or anything). Soon the red turtle swims ashore, and the man smacks it across the head and turns it upside down, meaning he is now free to escape… except he begins to feel sorry for it. This leads to when the film turns from realistic depiction of the stress and drama of isolation, to something more… mythical, or magical, I guess you could say.
I’ll leave it at that, but it does tell a beautiful story, with a sombre but touching end. The main draw is probably the imagery, mind you. It’s a gorgeous film to look at, and I only had the DVD version to review! Given the film’s story is conveyed purely by the visuals that’s a good thing, and the animation is as smooth as you’d imagine given the companies involved. Most of the actual animation was done in France by Prima Linea Productions, though it was obviously overseen by Studio Ghibli, including Isao “Grave of the Fireflies” Takahata being on board as Artistic Producer. This combination of two distinct animation styles leads to a pleasing blend of realistic proportioned characters with a simplified, less-detailed style to them.
It probably also won’t shock you to find out that the soundtrack is actually just the sounds of the island, breaking waves, wind blowing through trees, that sort of thing. It adds to the soothing effect the film has, as well as the feeling of isolation the first third has. There is some orchestral music during credits and other bits, made in France by Laurent Perez Del Mar, who has done a few films in his day, though nothing connected with anime prior to Red Turtle.
The only extra is a single, admittedly 57-minute, documentary/behind-the-scenes look at the film titled “The Secrets of The Red Turtle”. The release comes from Studiocanal, as if it needed another major force in animation and releases to add to the cover!
So, a short but sweet review, as it’s hard to talk about an 80-minute film with one character that you can actually talk about (Ooo! Sort of a spoiler there…) and no actual dialogue. That being said, for a dialogue-less film, it’s hard to find a better example of character development. I can’t begin to praise the script and direction on this enough, to get across such emotion and pretty much show a touching example of the cycle of life purely via images and wordless sound is truly impressive. It’s like a painting that even if you’re not interested in art, you catch it out of the corner of your eye and then you stand there, eventually leaving with a sense you’ve seen something special, even if it isn’t normally your kind of thing.