Studio Ghibli’s “The Red Turtle” is a melancholy tale of survival

red-turtleDutch director Michael Dudok de Wit takes a very minimalist approach with his new feature, the first ever international co-production from legendary Japanese animation house Studio Ghibli.

It’s a fairy tale about a man lost at sea who washes up on a deserted island. Instead of panicking, he sets about building a raft to get himself back home. Several attempts at tweaking his plan fail, due in some cases to faulty construction. The only other witnesses to this situation are a group of crabs that scurry around. Sometimes they amusingly assist. Often they scramble to get out of the way. Eventually, the man’s plan fails because of a massive red tortoise that gets in the way and busts up his bamboo vessel from underneath.

With the exception of the word “HEY!” shouted a few times, there are only sound effects, a playful score, and a comforting color palette on hand to illustrate what happens to our castaway. Since the end of the silent era, there haven’t been many attempts at capturing an audience’s imagination without the assistance of dialogue. The visual freedom provided by animation allows for Dudok de Wit to tell a moving and intimate story without the need for a huge cast of characters.

The power of nature is the guiding force to this fable. There is a profound melancholy highlighted in the aftermath of nature’s fury and the man’s distinct instinct to survive against all odds.

Completely storyboarded in Japan under the supervision of artistic director Isao Takahata (“Only Yesterday”), French animator Jean-Christophe Lie (“The Triplets of Bellville”) also assisted by overseeing the actual hand-drawn 2D artwork.

By blending different methods of storytelling and respecting the art of traditional animation, “The Red Turtle” feels like a lost classic that has been waiting to be rediscovered.

Sony Pictures Classics will release “The Red Turtle” in New York and Los Angeles for an Oscar-qualifying run on November 18. The movie will expand and should hit the Austin area in late January. It screens again at Fantastic Fest on Monday morning at 11:45 a.m. 


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