Studio Ghibli has always pushed the envelope in crafting tales in terms of its themes and stories, never settling for tales of anthropomorphic animals with gags and moral lessons in easy to digest narratives. With the help of Micheal Dudok De Wit, it offers The Red Turtle, a simple yet profound tale that conveys meaning in every frame.
The plot has the most basic elements imaginable but remains engaging because of storytelling. There’s a balance between wonder and reality without losing track of its themes. In this story a near-fatal accident becomes a transformative event, a bottle is a catalyst for growth, and an encounter leads to subtle character development.
The man at the center of this tale has no name or backstory. Save for a hint of what he might have been there’s nothing much about him. Apart from the occasional grunts and yells, he doesn’t say a line of dialogue. But this makes him a perfect stand-in for the audience. It forces you to pay attention to the details of his progress on the island, which makes for an immersive narrative.
This is supported by vivid and detailed animation that combines hand drawing with computer graphics. The charcoal background is combined with line art to deliver beautiful visuals. You are transported to a remote paradise where the ebb of shoreline at night is mundane yet magical.
The Red Turtle moves slow but unnoticeable unless you’re expecting the breakneck pace and slapstick comedy of American animation. By the second half, the story takes a fantastical turn.
When the man finally meets the Red Turtle, his survival story turns into an allegorical fable. It’s not sure if the effects of isolation have taken over his brain at this point, but it doesn’t matter because the story remains relatable and enchanting.
In essence, The Red Turtle is about life. In its simplicity, you can easily insert yourself into the story. The island can stand for our own personal worlds where our efforts to adapt, at times escape, and finally have the maturity to accept it, mirror the journey of an unnamed man as he learns to embrace life in a new world.
All of this makes for a distinctive animated film for adults that requires a long attention span. And those who do are rewarded with an affecting tale where moments of silence can truly speak a thousand words.
The Red Turtle
With its stunning animation and thematically rich storytelling, The Red Turtle is a profound allegorical tale about life told through the simple journey of a man shipwrecked on an island.