This is something of a coda to my Studio Ghibli articles, for the time being at least. There’s one final Miyazaki movie in production, but for now The Red Turtle is the end of the line. It was co-production, and is really completely different to anything else in the Ghibli range, both visually and thematically. The director is Michaël Dudok de Wit, and his style of animation is about as far from anything Studio Ghibli has done as you could get. It’s highly artistic, creative, and quite beautiful, but it’s really a Ghibli film in name only. It’s also not very good.
Now I realise that’s something of a controversial opinion. The Red Turtle was critically acclaimed. That means nothing though. Popular doesn’t equal good. Praised by critics doesn’t equal good. After all, most of the very best of the Ghibli range was almost completely ignored by critics until Spirited Away came along. I suspect this one is critically aclaimed because it’s one of those “look at me, I like highbrow art” moments for the critics, and yes, it’s a worthy film, but it’s also extremely silly.
It actually starts very promisingly, exploring the torture of being stranded alone on an island. It’s all pretty obvious, and far from the inventiveness of something like Castaway, but it’s still quite absorbing to watch, as the unnamed man tries to find a way to escape from the island. When he builds a raft it gets destroyed by an unseen creature under the water. He tries again. Same result. He tries again, and shouts out his rage at the world when yet another raft gets destroyed. When he discovers the culprit is a giant turtle he takes his chance and bludgeons it to death. It’s tragic, troubling, and exactly not the kind of thing I want to see in a film.
That’s when things get silly. The turtle somehow comes back to life as a woman, lives her life with the man and has a son. Whether it’s reincarnation or just the desperately lonely lifelong hallucination of a stranded man is open to interpretation, but either way I just couldn’t invest in the film from that point onwards, or care too much about the characters, despite the film’s best attempts to tug at the heartstrings throughout. Once you’ve watched a man kill a giant turtle you tend to lose interest in his troubles.
The one thing I did love about the film was the comedy moments with some little crabs that scuttle around every so often doing amusing things. The film really needs those lighter moments, because other than that it’s heavy going.
So that’s it for Studio Ghibli for the time being, and it’s time to branch out and look at some other anime movies. They might be the most famous studio in Japan but their output has been limited for a few years and at one stage it looked like they had made their last ever film. Other studios have stepped up to fill the gap, and we’ve had several animated films over the last few years to challenge the success of Studio Ghibli, and quite rightly so. Let’s broaden our horizons, and find out about The Girl Who Leapt Through Time…
I won’t include the trailer on this occasion, because it basically tells the entire story of the film in condensed form, so if you’re interested in watching the film it’s probably best to avoid the trailer, or you’ll feel like you’ve already seen it! RP