Glimpsing Ghibli’s Future: Michael Dudok de Wit’s The Red Turtle (2016) – Blu-ray review
If you feared that Studio Ghibli might be marooned with Miyazaki, its first international co-production offers a fresh voyage into the future.
The Red Turtle
(Michael Dudok de Wit, 2016)
Studio Ghibli has such a strong legacy that it’s hardly surprising it’s taken until now, following Hayao Miyazaki’s retirement, for the company to put its imprint on an international co-production. Fortunately, Belgian animator Michael Dudok De Wit’s debut is a worthy addition to the Ghibli name as well as offering thrilling new possibilities for the studio.
Dudok doesn’t go kid-in-a-sweet-shop crazy knowing who is backing him. Instead, The Red Turtle is a small, contained movie, a quiet marvel of narrative clarity and sensual detail. It’s the story of a man shipwrecked on a tropical island, with only some impish crabs for company… until he tries to escape on a raft and finds his efforts hampered by the titular reptile.
To say more would like away the bulk of this briskly told fable of repentance, acceptance and the passage of time. So let’s talk visuals: Dudok has an extraordinary graphic eye. For all the touches that pay homage to the Ghibli canon (Miyazaki-esque dreams of flight, the way the crabs’ behaviour recall the studio’s semi-regular soot-sprites) there are new elements.
The character design feels touched by Dudok’s fellow Belgian Hergé, while his skies are a tactile, chalky smudge where Miyazaki favoured pristine blues and whites. And Dudok excels himself in a thrilling tsunami set-piece that suggests there is plenty of promise for the future.
For now, though, what’s most impressive is the way the cleanness of visual style is met by the simplicity of story. This could have been made at any point of the past 50 years and will feel just as fresh in 50 more. It is sad, funny, tense (you’ll hold your breath during one sequence of peril in a cave-pool) but mostly it is struck with the same kind of awe you expect when the famous Totoro icon appears at the start of a Ghibli film.