If you have yet to be acquainted with Studio Ghibli productions, please take a look through our collection now. (You’ll find that The Red Turtle is quite different from the rest of Studio Ghibli’s productions though, as the story and screenplay were by Michael Dudok de Wit, and the style makes me think Studio Ghibli played a slightly more minor role in this production than in their other animations. That being said, the moment I saw the trailer for The Red Turtle, I immediately recognized those waves – Ghibli had its hand in there somewhere, even if it was so very different from what I had come to expect in terms of style. )
While this film will likely leave you with more questions than you entered with, as well as make you wonder if you’re overanalyzing the plot, and possible symbols, or if you should simply take it as it is, it’s well worth watching this slow and quiet epic, and it ages quite well as you return to it. There are no words throughout, though there is some frustrated screaming into the ocean – and I know that Shaun the Sheep was much praised for the same thing (being wordless, that is, not for its screaming into the ocean), but this is a different use of wordless animation that will probably appeal more to adult audiences – so you end up relying a lot on the beautiful soundtrack, though even in the moments with neither music nor words, the sound of the trees rustling, hurried breathing, a panicked noise, are more than enough to relay the emotions within each scene.
The Red Turtle hasn’t been released on DVD/Blu-ray yet, but it’s still playing (at the time of writing this post) at the TIFF, so go see it if you get the chance!
Here are some other films that you might like if you’re either thinking of seeing this or enjoyed it:
- My Neighbor Totoro (1988)
- Grave of the Fireflies (1988)
- From Up on Poppy Hill (2011)
- Ernest and Celestine (2014)
I Am Not a Number, by Jenny Kay Dupuis and Kathy Kacer, illustrated by Gillian Newland, tells the story of Irene Couchie, Dupuis’ grandmother, and her experience of the residential schooling system, where, along with many other First Nations children, she was stripped of her identity both as a person – the children went by numbers, not names; she was assigned 759 – and as a member of her community, punished for speaking her language – the Devil’s tongue, the nuns called it. As Irene is getting her hair cut, she says that she is crying not only because her hair is getting cut, but because in her community, hair is cut as a signifier of loss; the nun is not only cutting Irene’s hair: she is attempting to kill Irene and her culture*.
I have not enough space to say all the good things there are to say about The Singing Bones, nor a vocabulary sufficiently stocked to even so much as touch upon a full description of the wonder and delight this volume arouses in me! I mean, for one, I know we really shouldn’t judge books by their cover*, but how can you resist picking this up, knowing that this is a collection of the Grimm’s fairy tales, each tale accompanied by a sculpture in the same vein as the one on the cover?
It gets better. Each tale is presented here as a vignette rather than a retelling, revealing dramatic snippets of each story (the drama is aided all the more by the lighting and setup of each scene), sometimes altogether forgoing any mention of the plot proper. You’ll be exposed not only to a specific adaptation of the tales, but to a new way of interpreting them: Tan acts more as a guide that shows you the sweep of the landscape rather than one that points out all the details.
And if you aren’t completely familiar with the Grimm’s tales, a short synopsis of each of the tales featured in The Singing Bones is provided at the end of the book. It was quite nice to revisit the pages for tales I was unsure or had absolutely no clue about. (In addition to which I’ve blogged about Pullman’s collection of Fairy Tales from the Brothers Grimm before, so although there are some tales Tan covers that aren’t covered by Pullman, it’s well worth a read.)