The Red Turtle
by writer/director Michael Dudok de Wit
The project’s start was a shock. I had no strong ambition to make a feature. I was happy making short animated films, when one morning in 2006 I received an email from Japan with an unexpected request. It came from Studio Ghibli, an animation production company famous for its many exquisite feature films, such as Spirited Away and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya. The email asked whether I would consider making a feature produced by Studio Ghibli, Tokyo and Wild Bunch, Paris. They had chosen me on the basis of my short films, which they said they loved—especially “Father and Daughter.”
Within seconds, I knew I was on my way to writing and directing my first feature film.
During the long development period, I made frequent trips to Studio Ghibli to discuss the story with producers Toshio Suzuki and Isao Takahata. I wanted to learn from their vast experience in animated features, but I was also interested in the Japanese sensitivity to symbols and metaphors.
The film tells the story of three people on a desert island covered by bamboo forests. The story explores the big cycles of life, while remaining simple and well-grounded in the tropical environment.
Underneath the story and carrying the story, I hoped to convey my deep love for nature: for the beauty of light and shadow, the special ambience of warm nights and rainy forests, and the naturalness of death and birth.
The technique is hand-drawn animation. Instead of animating in a cartoony way, my team and I concentrated on a more realistic behavior, subtle but full of feeling. The marine turtles, birds and other creatures behave like genuine animals and they therefore don’t talk. In fact, the film has no dialogue, simply because the story can be told visually and with the support of the emotional score by composer Laurent Perez del Mar.
We made the film mostly in France with animation studio Prima Linea over a period of two and a half years. We worked in a charming old building with a big kitchen in the small town of Angouleme. The majority of artists were from France and Belgium, and we also had the support of an animation team in Hungary.
Has the film been influenced by Japanese culture? On the surface, I don't think so. But one of the things that inspires me—and many of my colleagues—so deeply in Japanese art is the extraordinary elegance of simplicity; I believe we can feel that in The Red Turtle. In Japan, they understand the basic principle that more can be expressed, effortlessly and intuitively, by saying less. In the West we understand this principle too, we love it and we apply it in our Western way. Meanwhile, we look with admiration at art from Japan and China, where this simplicity has reached a high level of refinement over many centuries.