Righto, this here 2016 animated film was a co-production between two studios – Wild Bunch and the legendary Studio Ghibli. The latter’s most famous director, Hayao Miyazaki, is responsible for masterpieces such as Princess Mononoke, but is now semi-retired (as he’s 76).
After he saw an animated film by Michaël Dudok de Wit, the studio contacted him directly in the hope of producing a film together.
The result is the Red Turtle, which was nominated for an Oscar this year for best-animated feature (La La Land won… or did it?!) – in the film, a nameless man is shipwrecked on a remote island.
After several escape attempts, he finds an enigmatic giant red turtle is keen to keep him there, triggering off a charming and moving fantasy story about life… and turtles, we guess.
The Red Turtle
It’s a silent film with no talking other than the odd grunt or exclamation, relying on its impressive visual style to tell the story. It is deceptively simple in its approach – on the surface, there’s a strange love story which doesn’t make much sense, but film buffs could debate for hours about what the intended meaning is.
Hayao Miyazaki is famous for his environmentalism, which you can clearly see in Princess Mononoke and his other films such as Ponyo, so is the Red Turtle a tale about how humans and animals should be living together peacefully?
It could be argued this way, although we’ve seen some movie-goer reviews class it simply as “weird”.
With the silent turtle blocking the man from escaping the island, the two have a confrontation on the beach. Not wishing to dish out any spoilers, but this leads to the arrival of a woman on the island from which a love story emerges.
They have a son and the trio lives on the island, whilst the son develops a mysterious and intrinsic relationship with other turtles around them which appear to be calling him out into the ocean.
It’s a multi-layered story but, if you simply want to kick back and enjoy the beautiful animation then the Red Turtle is entirely accessible. It’s a charming film which takes the Castaway premise and mixes it up with flights of fancy. Highly recommended for all ages.
Addendum: Your Name
From 2016 there’s also Your Name by Makoto Shinkai, which was produced by CoMix Wave Films. This is aimed more at a teenage audience and was a smash hit over in Nippon.
Studios are sometimes wary of bringing oddities from Japan over to the West, but Your Name got the full treatment (there’s an English dub as well, if you’d prefer that) and is an interesting film.
Truthfully, we weren’t quite as enamoured with it as some critics have been, but it’s a fun concept where a Japanese girl living in the countryside is bored of her mundane existence.
She suddenly, during dreams, begins swapping bodies with a Japanese boy living in Tokyo, and it builds into quite an emotionally charged and dramatic film after the opening teen-friendly first hour. Worth a look!