Studio Ghibli may no longer be producing feature-length anime movies, but they’re still co-producing films with other countries, the most recent being Michael Dudok de Wit’s nominally French (but language-free) The Red Turtle. In this beautifully animated yet deeply frustrating shaggy-dog tale, a shipwrecked castaway finds his escape attempts are thwarted by a large red turtle that keeps destroying his rafts. He kills the turtle in an act of cruelty almost more disturbing than anything in this week’s gore-fest Tenemos La Carne (We Are the Flesh). But it’s OK, because the dead turtle soon transmogrifies into a living human woman with whom he has a child, and a long blissful life on the island. Whether it’s a hallucination or magical realism is not clear, but the subtext certainly is: Although he clearly wants to get off the island, the turtle/ woman clips his wings and gives him a traditional domestic life — and after he’s beaten her to death for getting in his way. Though not a canonical Ghibli picture, the fact that their last two features The Tale of the Princess Kaguya and When Marnie Was There centered on well-conceived female characters makes the gender politics here doubly disappointing. That The Red Turtle is ultimately a French rather than a Japanese movie explains much, yet excuses nothing.
The Red Turtle
Rated PG. Opens Friday at the AMCMetreon 16 and Sundance Kabuki Cinemas.