Dutch director Michael Dudok de Wit becomes the first non-Japanese to helm an animated feature for Studio Ghibli with The Red Turtle containing nary a spoken word instead inaudible yells, gestures, sometimes peaceful or deafening sounds of nature permeate the narrative's soundtrack. The man may not have human companionship but a troop of small crabs are on hand to observe his every act, along with a mixture of birds, turtles and fish. After his initial exploration of his surroundings our hero builds a formidable raft in an attempt to sail off to rejoin humanity as he gets out past the break water his craft is met with bangs from below then torn apart. The culprit is a giant red turtle starting a continuing dance with the castaway until coming to shore and losing a confrontation with the sole frustrated inhabitant.
From here the piece moves into fable land as the relationship between the turtle and castaway shifts dramatically with the new form of the turtle becoming companion as the man as he moves through the stations of life. Studio Ghibli throw the might of their animation prowess behind Dudok de Wit for the project. The feel of a Ghibli animation comes through clearly on the screen. No aspect of the film is neglected by the production team from the several large natural challenges to the man's survival to the minute intricacies of the small crabs moving in formation to transport branches into the tiny hole on the beach leading to their home.
The sound department lead by mixer Fabien Devillers and editor Alexandre Fleurant are worthy of special mention. In a film with no dialogue natural sounds have to fill the void; chirping of the birds, scurrying of the crabs, the ebb and flow of the ocean and wind rustling through the trees fill in the gaps. The department's work domination two scenes in particular. The opening storm where the castaway struggles for his very survival against the sea and a high wire large scale weather event mid- way through the piece that once again puts our hero's survival in serious jeopardy.
The Red Turtle is a poignant study of a life's journey thrown complete off course by a significant event. It also explores what the human mind will construct to keep the body going under extremely trying circumstances and where the loss of hope and building despair could overwhelm leading to simply give up. Director Dudok De Wit took 9 years to craft his first animated feature bringing it to Studio Ghibli at a critical time as it's necessary for the studio to expand with the retirement of the master Hayao Miyazaki.
*** 1/2 Out of 4.
The Red Turtle | Michael Dudok de Wit | France /Belgium/ Japan | 2017 | 80 minutes.
Tags: Castaway, Deserted Island, Tsunami, Animation, Fantasy, Fable, Turtle, Crabs, Hallucinations, Nature. Raft.