It’s probably fair to say this is a French film, with its original title being La tortue rouge, but Studio Ghbili co-founder Isao Takahata (Only Yesterday, Grave of the Fireflies) has both a “producer” and an “artistic producer” credit on it and Ghibli CEO Toshio Suzuki also has a producer credit, so it’s billed as a co-effort between Ghibli and, well, a bunch of French studios, none of which seem to be animation studios. The director is an Oscar-winning Dutch-born director based out of London named Michael Dudok de Wit. In fact, it was de Wit’s Oscar winning short “Father and Daughter” that, apparently, spurred Hayao Miyazaki to request from Wild Bunch that they let Ghibli distribute the short in Japan, and that de Wit make a feature film for Ghibli!
Well, whatever, there’s no dialog in this one.
This is a lovely, gentle, poetic film, one of those cases where you can see why the Academy nominated it but also where that’s not a bad thing.
If you plan to see it, go ahead and see it and then maybe come back and read the rest of this. Part of the pleasure of a film like this can be not knowing where it’s coming from and where it goes. Beyond the setup, which is a man stranded on a desert island, the rest is both different and familiar, in the manner of a classic fairy tale.
If you’re on the fence, I’m going to summarize the main hook of the film now. Perhaps it will tantalize you.
The story begins when a man is shipwrecked on a classic desert island. He builds a raft to get off, but once he gets past a certain point, a mysterious force from the deep destroys his raft. He repeats this process with larger and larger rafts, only to have each one destroyed in turn. He finally discovers that the destroyer of the raft is a giant red turtle. (And we got ourselves a title!)
He goes to build an even bigger raft (with blackjack! and hookers!) but this time, while building it, he sees red the turtle emerge from the surf, apparently to escort a passel of baby turtles to the ocean. In a pique, he grabs the turtle before it can get back to the ocean, flips it over and smashes it with a rock. It slowly dies over the course of days as he sullenly continues work on his raft. One day, after it’s dead, he has a nightmare and awakes with a sudden horror of what he’s done, and he frantically tries to save the turtle by pouring water on it.
Instead of reviving it, however, the turtle splits in half.
Inside the red turtle? A woman.
And thus begins the love story that makes up the rest of the film.
Well, it’s nice. It’s short. It goes for telling its story with simple animation—The Flower was a bit concerned about the look based on the trailer, but the style won her over. Like a lot of Ghibli stuff, this movie isn’t meant to be an adrenaline-fueled thrill ride. The world isn’t at stake, in the classical sense, though our hero’s perception of the world is.
And all with the only spoken sounds being less complicated the simglish. We all really liked it. But the animation category for the Oscars was really good this year: The Boy managed to sneak out to see My Life As A Zucchini when it played and said it was also excellent. This is probably a good sign, in light of my “damning with faint praise” view of Moana.