Michael Dudok de Wit’s feature-length directorial debut, The Red Turtle (La Tortue Rouge), has inveilied its first trailer to coincide with its premier at the Cannes Film Festival this week.
As Studio Ghilbli’s first external co-production, “The Red Turtle” was made in France and directed by Dutch-born, London-based animator Michael Dudok de Wit, whose wordless Oscar-winning short “Father and Daughter” had become a favorite at Ghibli. With Ghibli’s creative genius Hayao Miyazaki all but retired from features to focus exclusively on short films, the studio is need of young talent to carry on the legacy of one of the world’s most revered animation companies. It is this pursuit that not only produced Hiromasa Yonebayashi’s “When Marnie Was There” and Goro Miyazaki’s “From Up on Poppy Hill”, but it also inspired the one-of-a-kind project that was the “The Red Turtle.”
Ghibli producer Toshio Suzuki tasked French distributor Vincent Maraval with tracking down Dudok de Wit and convincing him to make a movie for the studio. The move caught Dudok de Wit completely off-guard, having never contemplated directing a feature, instead preferring to make his hand-drawn, charcoal-based TV commercials and shorts almost entirely by himself. Though he understood no studio would allow a feature to be created in this manner, his respect for Studio Ghibli’s work and confidence in the executives’ enthusiasm led him to accept the prestigious offer.
“Right from the beginning, they made it very clear, the film would be made just like they make their own films: a director’s film, and the director would have final say,” recalls Dudok de Wit. He pitched them the story of a man who washes up on a desert island and must do battle with a mysterious sea turtle before getting on with his life.
The resulting film is a vastly different style to previous Ghibli projects, but is unmistakably the work of Dudok de Wit, whose charcoal textures and hand-drawn characters remain, as does the risky yet confident choice of telling a feature-length allegory without a trace of dialogue. The freedom given to Dudok de Wit on ‘The Red Turtle’ is a rare find among animation studio’s but is precisely what has defined Ghibli as one of the strongest and most innovative companies around, a trait that appears will continue in full force with or without the great Miyazaki at the helm.
Following its Cannes bow, The Red Turtle will be the opening night film at Annecy next month, and Toho will release it in Japanese theaters in September.
As of yet, there are no details on release dates for other locations around the world, but would be an ideal prestige release for a major studio, especially one without a well-established internal animation program. Hopefully fans will not have to wait too much longer to enjoy the latest poignant and beautifully animated release from Studio Ghibli.