This is my review I did of a showing of the film at Chapter Arts Centre for Buzz Magazine.
If I had to describe The Red Turtle in one word, that word would be intriguing.
To try and synopsize it as a simple tale of a shipwrecked man and the red turtle he encounters would not only be a disservice to the film’s wondrous visual complexity but it’s universal themes. Those used to the computer-animated adventures of our favourite Pixar characters and heroes might initially view its style and approach to storytelling as unusual. If you are even the slightest fan of the work of its co-producers, Studio Ghibli, however, then its appearance will most likely be more enjoyable, though no less impressive.
In the opening scene our shipwrecked character is clinging onto life among huge animated waves; a moving image straight out of the imagination of the iconic Japanese woodblock painter Katsushika Hokusai.
We meet the titular red turtle as it thwarts our castaway’s attempts to escape the tropical island he finds himself on. After it’s death at the hands of the castaway and his reflective grief we are transported into a surreal journey and exploration of nature and life itself, a combination of captivating visual and narrative strokes. In an age of loud and brash summer blockbusters, the beauty of The Red Turtle lies in its refusal to force a specific message onto viewers. Everyone can interpret it in their own way, at their own pace and enjoy its subtle touches. This includes an amusing Greek chorus of scuttling crabs.
This is not to say the film is free from it’s dramatic and awe-inspiring moments; the brute power of nature and it’s destructive potential are also very apparent in one particular sequence. And so to be found within this ambiguity, there is also a clear, simple and profound core message which unifies all these elements, surrounding the cyclical nature of life, death and rebirth. There are also broader ecological themes which you will find in many of Ghibli’s own past output. This includes their early 1984 animated masterpiece, Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind.
As such, it is fitting that its finely observed gestures and crisp visual storytelling should also remind us of silent cinema’s golden age. This is both emphasised by and fits perfectly with the absence of traditional dialogue and monochrome tinged night sequences.
Another key element of the film is the music. Laurent Perez del Mar’s score intertwines smoothly with the visuals on screen, integrating wood and bamboo percussion, gentle flutes and soaring strings to add even more depth to the film’s already kaleidoscopic tones.
At the very core of The Red Turtle is a universal message which transcends boundaries of language, culture, geography and age. Above all else, this is the film’s greatest strength.