Though Marnie Was There was labelled as Studio Ghibli’s final endeavour before a lengthy break from filmmaking, the spirit of the Japanese animation studio lives on, in Michael Dudok de Wit’s debut The Red Turtle, co-produced by Ghibli. The latter’s influence is patent, for this enchanting, serene feature makes for an ineffably moving, and truly engaging cinematic experience.
The dialogue-less film begins with a twentysomething man being swept ashore having been caught up in a perilous storm on his vulnerable boat. Waking up in the sand, on what appears to be a tropical island, he has only crabs and turtles for company. Desperate to find a means of escaping, he builds a raft from the wood of the trees, only to get so far out to sea before a giant red turtle destroys his makeshift vessel – on more than one occasion. Eventually he comes face to face with his adversary, and what transpires are events that change his life for good.
With a simplistic premise, The Red Turtle is almost akin to a Pixar short, except one that has been gloriously stretched out into feature length form. Though waining somewhat in the middle stages as question marks linger as to the sustainability of this minimalist narrative, there’s an indelible atmosphere which remains constant, while the premise is simply magical. We embody our castaway protagonist, and witness his foremost dreams and fantasies, tapping in to our innate, carnal desires to reproduce, and to nurture.
The animation style, as expected, is simply breathtaking, the way the sun glistens off the sea bed, the meticulous attention to detail when it comes to things such as the mesmerising tide coming in and out like clockwork. What also helps is the stunning, stirring score by Laurent Perez Del Mar, and when dealing with a dialogue-free movie, the soundtrack is so essential in informing and crafting the overall tone, and in this instance it makes for a beautiful accompaniment.
The one downside is whether a young crowd will fully immerse themselves in this project, for it’s quite an ask to expect of a child to sit through this visceral picture without feeling somewhat bored. But never mind them, there’s so much in here for grown ups in the crowd, that if you do take a kid with you, they’ll just have to sit there and get used to it – because this is simply a joy.