The Red Turtle Director: “It Had to Be an Auteur Film”

I created Story Unlocker with an intention of translating Japanese interviews with Japanese creators, but I want to make an exception for the director of The Red Turtle, Michael Dudok de Wit. This Dutch news article was originally published at on May 11, 2016. The article provides an insight on the role of Studio Ghibli in the production process.

It’s a rare opportunity for me to translate from my native language on this site. This news article is quite short, so please consider it as a “preview” to a translation of a longer interview which will be posted later this month. Of course, if you can read Dutch, please head over to to read the news article in its original language. I also highly recommend watching the documentary “Het verlangen van Michael Dudok de Wit“.

Dutchman debuts in Cannes with an animation film

Michael Dudok de Wit comes to Cannes, which starts tonight, with his animation film ‘The Red Turtle’.

The Red Turtle
In Michael Dudok de Wit’s Japanese-French animation film ‘The Red Turtle’ a stranded man on an uninhabited island attempts to return to civilization.

May 11, 2016: How he started working for the legendary animation studio Ghibli? It all began with a somewhat complimentary letter in 2006, Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit remembers. He shook the hands of maestros Isao Takahata (80) and Hayao Miyazaki (75) once. Now they asked if he wanted to make a feature film with Ghibli. “I asked: why me? Who else did you ask? But they wanted me.”

The stranded man

Ten years later La Tortue Rouge (The Red Turtle) premieres in Cannes. It’s about a stranded man on an uninhabited island whose attempts to return to civilization are thwarted by a turtle.

The fact that Dudok de Wit ended up with Ghibli isn’t very strange. The studio, dominated by two elderly maestros and their epigones, is on the verge of ossification. An European experiment – with the French Wild Bunch – would be worth a try. And Dudok de Wit with his delicate sensitivity and oriental charcoal and watercolor style, seems self-explanatory. In 2001 he won an Oscar with his short film Father and Daughter.


But Dudok de Wit had to ponder over creating a feature film. Since his graduation in 1978 he had animated only about 21 minutes of film, commercial work aside. Captivating viewers for one and a half hour was something completely different. And exciting. The deal was that Ghibli could pull the plug at every stage. Dudok de Wit refined the script and rough animation for years, and sometimes stepped in a plane to Tokyo with very heavy feet. “I would think: There’s a big chance it will stop right here.”

He primarily consulted with animation legend Isao Takahata (Grave of the Fireflies, The Tale of Princess Kaguya). Dudok de Wit: “We were always together with ten people, but most of them listened. It could be about the color of the hair, or about the greater philosophical problems and narrative knots.” Takahata didn’t always get his way. “He has authority, but doesn’t dominate. It had to be an auteur film, and they respected my choices.”

Creating a feature film was “very strange” for him. “I often work alone and now I am some kind of manager who continually had to explain everything. But it became a very nice group of friends, and it truly is an art to pull out the best from of all those talented people.” Then how about repeating the experience? “Yes, I have learned so much. But not without an idea I’m in love with.”


Nederlander debuteert in Cannes met animatiefilm


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