The Red Turtle is an animated feature film collaboration between French company, Wild Bunch and famed Japanese animation house, Studio Ghibli. It’s at times beautiful, haunting, suspenseful and ultimately depressing and sad but don’t let that detract you from watching this stunning film.
The film tells the story of a young man who finds himself shipwrecked on an island who quickly learns that he has to fend for himself on this idyllic remote land. He sets about building a raft to take him away and hopefully back to civilisation however the first two times in his attempt, the raft crashed into something under water which ultimately destroys the raft leaving him to swim back to shore. It isn’t until his third attempt that he encounters the source of the impact, a large red turtle.
After making it back to shore and watching from a mountain, he sees the turtle come to land which leads him to running back to it and flipping it onto its back, believing that this time his attempt to escape will be successful. However during one night, he has a strange dream which convinces him the turtle is actually his salvation so after waking he tries to flip the turtle back but he’s unable to to and it appears that the turtle dies. However the next day, the turtle transforms into a woman who the man nurses back to life and the story delves into their life from surviving a massive natural disaster which rocks the island to raising their baby son together.
I don’t want to disclose more of the story suffice to say, this isn’t what you would call a feel good story and to be quite honest, during the viewing I had mixed emotions ranging from bemusement, sadness and hopelessness. There are funny moments during the film such a family of crabs which follow the man around during his solo days and almost seem to see him off during his escape attempts yet are waiting for him on the sand when he emerges from the water each time. It’s quite beautiful how Ghibli films have a knack for not just having the main characters being the focus of the story but how the most unassuming objects in the setting lend a hand to carry the narrative. In this case, the makers know that the film is quite depressing and inject these moments to add some levity and softer moments and for the most part they do their part.
One important thing to note is that there is no dialogue during the film whatsoever so it’s a testament to the storytellers that they can run a film for close to 90 minutes without having a slow or boring moment. Just when you think you know how the film’s going to end up, something changes to keep you on your toes and it’s moments like this that make you realise you’re not just watching another animated feature. The animation is very Ghibli-esque and in particular, the three characters have all look amazing. I couldn’t find out what technology was used to animate but it looks like they’ve been motion captured as the end result is quite stunning with a striking visual look.
It’s because go the way that it’s presented that I found it hard to score this film so I’ve had to go with two scores. One for the story and one for the animation and overall presentation. Keep in mind that despite the foreboding message throughout the film, it’s still quite essential watching for any Studio Ghibli fans and only serves to build their impressive roster of rich storytelling and, at times, adult concepts. If you get the chance, give it a watch and let us know what you think of it.
*Thanks to Madman for review copy*
Story: 6.5/10 – Dark, moody, depressing. Watch when you’re in a really, really good mood.
Overall presentation: 8.5/10