The Red Turtle @ QLD Film Festival

Joyously sad.

Ever since I saw my first Studio Ghibli film, Howl’s Moving Castle, I have been obsessed with their work. Their movies take my mind somewhere that makes me feel like a child again. There is a part of me that even wants to have children of my own just so that I can force them to love these movies as much as I do. They will have little Totoro soft toys and then Disney films will be an afterthought. On that note, as soon as I found out that The Red Turtle was being played at the Queensland Film festival at New Farm Cinemas, I told 4zzz that I had to do this review.

Directed by acclaimed Dutch animator, Michaël Dudok de Wit (who made the Oscar winning short film “Father and Daughter”), comes this beautiful wordless 80 minute animation about a man who finds himself stranded on an island. On one hand the film is as simple as it gets. The main character has no name, the film has zero dialogue (outside of the occasional scream or sigh), and the whole story takes place on a deserted island. It’s in these confines that the film is able to expand on so many other aspects and showcase some of the strengths that have now become distinctive features of the Ghibli films. The filmmaker’s use of simplistic scenes, accompanied by stirring music and powerful images of natural elements and wildlife, offer deeper meaning and interpretation to each chapter.

Though Dudok de Wit is a newcomer to the Ghibli Studio, his style is still deeply rooted in the standards that make the films so unique. The quirky cute side-characters - which, in this film, are played by loveable crabs that inhabit the beachfront - are a common occurrence in the films. The captivating presence of nature has become a recurring theme/character in all of the studio’s films. The illustrations appear to be created with a mixed media of hand and computer drawn animation techniques with eastern and western art styles. The detail in the trees show phenomenal artistic talent and other areas, such as the water and wind, appear to be CGI. The characters, however, are in the classic French style called Ligne Claire, which was pioneered by Tintin comic book creator Hergé. You can see this influence by looking at the little noses and dotted eyes.

Last but not least is the surreal fantasy which flows in and out of the film and gives us a little background on the protagonist. This is explored through dream sequences, flying, and hallucinations. The audience ventures into the main character’s dreams while he chases a string quartet on the beach only to see them disappear before he can reach them. 

The actual character of the red turtle arrives not long after the man is found washed up on this island as he makes his first attempt to leave on a raft made of bamboo. The turtle repeatedly destroys his self-made rafts. What happens after their first encounter I dare not say, as it will spoil the movie. This moving piece of animation never gives a straightforward meaning and rather leaves it open to interpretation for the audience. I took away the message of longing for companionship, need for family, and the pain of loss and separation. A tragic moment happens to our protagonist early on in the film and it appears to haunt him for the remainder of the tale, which evolves the entire story into something captivating and moving but ultimately quite depressing. I found this a stand out feature and I hope/look forward to Studio Ghibli and Michaël Dudok de Wit working together again on something soon.

- Tom Harrison

Movie Details

Title: The Red Turtle
Director: Michaël Dudok de Wit