So here’s what’s going on with Studio Ghibli…..no one really knows. Now that Miyazaki and Isao Takahata have seemingly retired, the beloved studio’s future is uncertain. They may very well never make a feature film again. We just don’t know. But wait, what’s this? The Red Turtle? A new Ghibli film? Well……no. It isn’t. Sorry. But what it IS, by the looks of things, is a pretty lovely piece of cinema. The Red Turtle is a co-production between Studio Ghibli and Wild Bunch, an German studio. The film’s story, style and direction all come from Michael Dudok de Witt, an animator who’s worked on, among other things, Heavy Metal and Fantasia 2000. A number of Ghibli animators may have had a hand in bringing The Red Turtle to life, but by the looks of things, the heart of the film lies elsewhere than Ghibli’s Koganei-based studios. And I think that presenting this as a Ghibli film, as some are, is honestly unfair to the film. People are going to be watching the trailer, and maybe even going into the whole film, thinking that it will be made in the Ghibli style, which it isn’t. Setting up expectations like that can undermine the film’s impact, and leave too many viewers disappointed that they aren’t getting what they were expecting to actually appreciate what they got. But that’s all honestly neither here nor there, I just feel it needed to be said.
That out of the way, how does it look? Pretty beautiful, in fact. The film would seem to tell the story of a man stranded on an island, who starts a family with a woman who may or may not be some kind of magical turtle. The film, which clocks in at a quick 80 minutes, is almost dialogue-free, and if you’re as keen on nonverbal storytelling as I am, that gets you good and interested. What jumps out at me about the film’s visual style, apart from the rotoscoped animtion, is how virtually every shot in the thing looks to be either a “long” or “extreme long”-type shot. A long shot is one where the subject is framed from head to toes, as opposed to from the waist up or a closeup on their face. An extreme long, you may be able to guess, is one where the distance between the viewer and the subject (if there is one) is even longer, with the environment or background dominating the shot. In almost every shot in the trailer, we the viewers are kept at something of a distance from our subjects. I say “almost” because there are closer shots in there, but they seem to be reserved for powerful or important reactions. It’s a bold stylistic choice, one that may alienate some people from the film. It’s the kind of technique that may keep people from feeling a connection with the characters, which makes this aesthetic a gamble, if this is indeed how the whole film will look. But hey, we need more films that take gambles like that if you ask me.
Check out the trailer for The Red Turtle below. What do you think? Does the style work for you?