The reason why the title is called Studio Ghibli Challenge Extra is because this is not primarily their film. Instead, the film studio worked with several French companies. I cannot wholly compare it with other Studio Ghibli works because it is presented differently, and the film hits differently.
This film also has no dialogue, but it is not a silent film. So basically, its 80-minute runtime is full of just watching events happen.
The story begins with a seemingly ordinary man adrift by a storm and wakes up on a beach of an uncharted island. Confused, he walks around the island and notices that it provides what he needs, fresh fruits, water, and a dense bamboo forest that can be used as a makeshift shelter or spear. He builds a raft from the bamboo and tries to sail away. An unknown creature destroys his raft, which forces him back to the island. He tries again with a larger and sturdier raft but is again destroyed by the creature. He tries for the third time, but this time he confronts the animal, which turns out to be a turtle with a red shell.
During the evening, the turtle crawls to the beach, and out of anger, the man rushes and hits it on its head. He turned the creature over, stranding it. He tries to build another raft but feels guilty and checks upon the turtle. He fetches water, but it is already dead as soon as he approaches the animal. He fell asleep, and a woman came out from its shell the following day. The man hurriedly fetches clean water and builds a shelter for her. When the rain fell, the woman cast the shell while the man did the same with his raft. The two fell in love after.
The couple had a red-haired son. He finds a glass bottle, and the couple tells him their story. One day the son accidentally falls into the sea and learns he is a natural swimmer. He is greeted by three green turtles who help him go back to his parents. A few years later, their son is now a grown man. One day, a tsunami hits, destroying the beach and a few parts of the bamboo forest. The young man searches for his parents and finds his mother wounded. He calls the three green turtles to help him search for his father. They found him clinging to bamboo and rescued him.
One day, the young man dreamt of swimming in the vast ocean. He says goodbye to his parents, who are visibly sad to see him go. He swims away with the three turtles. A few years later, the man and the woman are now old but still in love with each other. The man gazes at the moon one last time before dying. The woman grieves and lies next to him. She transforms into a red turtle, goes out to the sea, and swims away.
I don't expect much about the movie, but it has elements Studio Ghibli has in its films which is terrific worldbuilding aligned with top-notch animation.
The movie itself is not easy to watch because it lacks dialogue, and explanations are not outright straightforward. You might need to watch some scenes again because it's pretty tricky to understand. But it's what makes good films great, so I am not complaining if the film gives me all the information I need or just some of it.
Honestly, I don't really know what the movie tells us. Is it like the circle of life that once you have learned to be contented, you stay where you are and spend the rest of your life with your partner or loved ones? Is it an adventure of some sort, where the Red Turtle is like a hurdle that he needs to overcome? I am honestly lost for words regarding the actual movie's meaning. The only thing I know is that its meaning is hidden across several signs that the character experiences throughout his life's journey on the island.
So what does the Red Turtle symbolize? In my opinion, the creature could be someone from our lives whom, once we have met that we know from ourselves, we need to settle down. We need to be content and satisfied. Maybe some of us might have met our red turtles, and some still don't.
I like that it kept being mysterious even after the movie ended. It raises valid questions more than it answers. It's one of those films that I appreciate more because it lets the audiences ask and not ultimately rely on just the explanation from the plot.
Overall, I like the film, not because I find it weird or enjoyable, but because I think it is important. Again, with no dialogue to interpret, it's up to the audience how they feel about this movie. This movie might not be your cup-of-tea film, but it is still a must-watch.
I am glad I stumbled upon this classic.
This movie deserves 4 out of 5 stars.