Studio Ghibli's first international co-production is beautifully crafted and full of wonder
The Red Turtle is a Studio Ghibli film, but not as we know it. For the Japanese studio's first international co-production they have enlisted Michaël Dudok de Wit, an Oscar-winning animator here making his feature debut, and he has brought a vision that makes this film feel both a perfect fit for Ghibli's philosophy and something wholly unique. The film begins with a strikingly convincing portrait of a man surviving a shipwreck in a raging storm and washing up on a deserted island, before following the arduous process of his attempts to build a raft and escape his lonely fate. Being alone, naturally, he doesn't say a word, but one of the many astounding things about The Red Turtle is that no words are spoken throughout the film's entire 80 minutes.
The Red Turtle is a masterclass in visual storytelling. Dudok de Wit and his team establish a leisurely pace that allows us to spend time with this character and get to know the island as he does, so the magical events that take place later feel entirely consistent with the internal logic of the world that has been created for us. That the world is rendered so beautifully certainly helps; Dudok de Wit's commitment to traditional hand-drawn animation techniques gives both the characters and the island a texture and sense of life that is wondrous to behold.
To describe the bare bones of The Red Turtle's story might make it sound slight, but the film's cumulative power sneaks up on the viewer. Like Dudok de Wit's shorts, the film is essentially about the cycle of life, the choices we make, and the way we approach the end. As such, it has a transcendent quality that feels timeless, and coming at a time when the iconic figures behind Studio Ghibli are hanging up their paintbrushes, the film might indicate a still-bright future for that great company.