Swimming to the Mainland for Studio Ghibli’s The Red Turtle

19 Oct

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By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

When I heard The Red Turtle, a collaborative work between Studio Ghibli, Wild Bunch (distributing) and Michaël Dudok de Wit, is making its rounds at special screenings, I knew I had to jump at the chance to see it as soon as it arrived in North America. Flying to Japan or Toronto was sadly out of the question due to budget, but as soon as I saw that it was playing at the 2016 Vancouver International Film Festival, I wanted to hop a ride on a whale to the mainland as soon as my schedule allowed. In the Pacific Northwest, orcas are representative to the region and I do not think one would kindly take to riding her back to English Bay / Vancouver Harbour just for this film. The same might be said for this film’s protagonist when considering his first encounters with the reptile, and he got off lucky!

With this movie, I find Hayao Miyazaki never fails to astound his fans in the talents he recognizes as masters of their craft. After he stated, “All I did was announce that I would be retiring and not making any more features,” in a report by LA Times, he would still be influential in the future of the company he helped co-found. His son Gorō is involved in other co-productions with various studios and Isao Takahata helped with the artistic development of this Dutch animator / director feature-length film debut.

The artistry in this film blends a variety of styles together. The character designs are akin to what I would find in comics like The Adventures of Tintin comics and the backgrounds look like they have emerged from Jean Giraud Mœbius work. To reveal too much about the story can spoil the creative aspects of where de Wit drew his inspiration from. This movie is a transformative experience because I love legends of mythical beings who bring heart and harmony to those they encounter. Films that leave you feeling good afterwards, like in Takahata’s Heisei Tanuki Gassen Ponpoko, show that animals and people have to adapt together in an ever-changing world.

In a film which hardly uses dialogue to establish emotional context, de Wit’s direction is deeply thoughtful. Just where this man came from does not matter. There are teases suggesting that he may have once belonged to a European court and the timeline suggests Mozart‘s era when he starts having hallucinations. There’s sympathy being developed in this person’s plight when he tries to leave the island. The Red Turtle is stopping him for a reason. The way they eventually bond is at the heart of this story, and to witness this individual’s attempt to survive is not entirely maudlin. I was left in tears because I knew what was coming. In order to bring a few laughs into the drama, a group of hermit crabs steal the show.

5 Stars out of 5

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