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Western Animation / The Red Turtle

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The Red Turtle (French: La Tortue Rouge, Japanese: レッドタートル ある島の物語note ) is a 2016 Franco-Japanese animated fantasy film co-written and directed by Dutch-British animator Michael Dudok de Wit. The project was produced in collaboration between Prima Linea Productions, Why Not Productions, Wild Bunch, CN4 Productions, Arte France Cinéma, Belvision Corporation, and Studio Ghibli, the latter of whom had fallen on hard times in the wake of Hayao Miyazaki's retirementnote  and the box office failures of The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There and got involved with the film as a means of getting back on their feet. The film also features additional animation from A. Film, Dreamwall, and Kecskemétfilm Kft.

Devoid of dialogue, the film tells the story of a man who becomes shipwrecked on a deserted island and meets a giant red turtle, whose life intertwines with his own in an unexpected way during his fight for survival.

The Red Turtle was the final Ghibli film produced by Isao Takahata before his passing on April 5, 2018.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Prologue: The film opens with the man wrestling for life or death in the middle of a storm. We never learn how he got there in the first place.
  • Amazing Technicolor Wildlife: The titular red turtle.
  • Big Sleep: At the end the father closes his eyes and then passes away peacefully.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The father lives and dies on that island, but at least he dies in his sleep, and in the company of the mother no less. This also counts for the mother as well, who mourns for her husband until she changes back into a sea turtle. Content with the life she lead with him, the red sea turtle returns to the ocean.
  • Black Bead Eyes: The characters have black buttons for eyes.
  • Border Patrol: For unknown reasons the red turtle does not let the man escape from the island, destroying his rafts again and again.
  • But Now I Must Go: The Son to his parents; when he reaches adulthood. He wishes them farewell as he joins the other sea turtles in an indefinite journey through the ocean.
  • Cathartic Scream: The man lets a big one out after the red turtle destroyed his raft once again.
  • Daydream Surprise: The father and later his son have visions which first seem like real experiences until weird things start to happen, soon after which the characters wake up.
  • Deer in the Headlights: The father is stunned watching the tsunami wave rushing on and has to be carried along by the mother.
  • Disney Death: At first, the red sea turtle seems beyond saving, no matter how hard the man tries to revive it. But one night, after she assumes the form of a woman, the former sea turtle wakes up.
  • Finger-Twitching Revival: The first sign of the woman being alive in the turtle shell is her hand moving.
  • Flashback Cut: After the woman fed the man some oyster flesh, he has a quick flashback to the moment when he attacked the red turtle with a tree trunk. His facial expression tells us that he feels remorse note .
  • Foreboding Fleeing Flock: The characters notice that something is wrong when the birds in the sky start to flock and fly off. Soon after the tsunami wave hits the shore.
  • Giant Wall of Watery Doom: Averted for the actual tsunami wave which seems to be only twice as high as the characters. Played straight later in the boy's vision where he looks down from the top of the huge static wave to see his parents as tiny dots on the ground.
  • Good Parents: The Man and his wife - the now-human turtle - demonstrate nothing but affection, support, and care for their only son.
  • Halfway Plot Switch: Zig-Zagged with Genre Shift. The first half of the movie is the Man struggling to survive on and escape the island with each of his attempts being ruined by the Red Turtle. The second half is a fantasy-romance family drama where the Man and now-human Turtle become a couple and birth a son; chronicling their lives on the island.
  • Interspecies Romance: This is the film’s main premise when the titular Red Turtle transforms into a human woman.
  • Just in Time: The son comes in the very nick of time to save his dad from drowning in the aftermath of the tsunami.
  • Logo Joke: The Studio Ghibli logo is displayed against a red background, as opposed to the usual cyan.
  • Magic Realism: The only fantasy element from this movie is the titular red turtle turning into a woman in the middle of the movie. This event is never questioned nor explained.
  • Message in a Bottle: Averted. The boy finds an empty bottle which seems to motivate him to go out into the world but this trope doesn't come into play.
  • My God, What Have I Done?: The Man is devastated upon realizing he murdered the titular turtle. Even after she resurrects as a human woman, he reflects on the act with shame.
  • Naked on Arrival: The woman when she appears in the turtle shell.
  • Nameless Narrative: The characters are named The Father, The Mother and The Son.
  • Off-into-the-Distance Ending: The film ends with the red turtle leaving the beach and swimming off into the distance.
  • One-Woman Wail: "She Is Dead" from the soundtrack which plays first plays during the red-turtle-floating vision, then when the man and the woman get romantically involved for the first time and also at the end when the turtle leaves the beach.
  • Please Put Some Clothes On: The man leaves his shirt at the shore so the woman would have something to dress after appearing Naked on Arrival.
  • Plucky Comic Relief: The crabs provide a comedic element in an otherwise serious film.
  • Robinsonade: The first act of the movie focuses on the man and his survival on and escape attempts from the island he got stranded on.
  • Sanity Slippage: Zig-zagged with Despair Event Horizon. As his days being stranded on the island prolong, the man undergoes a grief-driven version of this; experiencing hallucinations as well as laying on the ground to languish as he allows insects and flies to swarm him.
  • Scenery Censor: Nudity was carefully avoided. The woman's bare breast are first covered under the turtle shell, then under water and later by her Godiva Hair.
  • The Scream: Having been fooled by a vision of orchestra players on the beach, the man sinks to the ground and the camera angle cuts away to high above him where his scream can be heard.
  • Silence Is Golden: The movie is free of dialogue, which helps in setting its contemplative tone.
  • Tastes Like Friendship: The first action the woman undertakes when joining the man is showing him how to eat oysters.
  • Time Skip: Several, noticeable by the aging of the son.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: After one of his attempts to leave the island are thwarted by the turtle, The Man visibly upchucks on the beach from swallowing seawater. We see contents spill from his mouth and land in a pile.
  • Water Wake-up: The man tries to revive the red turtle with a splash of water, but it's too late. At first.