Studio Ghibli Inspires With French Co-Production “The Red Turtle”
With esteemed animation masters Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata no longer at the helm behind Studio Ghibli and instead focusing on short films, many have been wondered how the revered animation company will move forward, and who will continue the legacy?
As the call for younger talent has been made and answered with Hiromasa Yonebayashi (“When Marnie Was There”) and Goro Miyazaki (“From Up on Poppy Hill”), so came the inspiration for a one-of-a-kind project called “The Red Turtle”.
As Studio Ghibli’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.
In pursuit of ways the company might innovate, producer Toshio Suzuki tasked French distributor Vincent Maraval with tracking down Dudok de Wit and convincing him to make a movie for Ghibli.Dudok de Wit was caught completely off-guard by the offer. He had no intention of ever directing a feature, instead preferring to make his hand-drawn, charcoal-based TV commercials and shorts almost entirely by himself. Though he was convinced no studio would allow him to make an entire feature his way, he respected Studio Ghibli’s work and took confidence in the execs’ enthusiasm.
“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.
For long stretches of the project, Dudok de Wit worked alone — though producers Wild Bunch and Prima Linea (the toon studio behind “Zarafa”) eventually paired him with screenwriter Pascale Ferran (“Bird People”) and recruited a team of animators from Angoulême, France, to realize his vision. Takahata himself visited regularly, offering beneficial feedback, even as he respected the director’s final say.
There are few other animation studios on earth that give directors the kind of freedom Dudok de Wit enjoyed on “The Red Turtle,” and yet that independence is precisely what has historically made Ghibli strong — and would seem to be the key to the studio’s survival going forward, whether or not they ever try an international co-production again.
Upon it’s premiere at the 69th Cannes Film Festival on May 18, reports state that the excitement could be felt from viewers as soon as Studio Ghibli’s well-known Totoro logo appeared on the screen, and that the film received a huge standing ovation at its end.
“I’m so happy,” said Suzuki, “Of course, I would be quite sad if there was no one left at the end of the film (laughs).”
Director Dudok de Wit commented, “There were about a thousand people in this huge theatre, and they were all so focused on the film. I don’t think I’ve felt anything so amazing before.”
The Red Turtle is set for French release on June 29, and the Japanese release after that in September.