Shortly after Hayao Miyazaki, the Walt Disney of Japan, finally made good on his recurring threats to retire in 2013, Studio Ghibli -- the animation house he helped found -- shut its doors for a period of "spring cleaning" and "reconstruction" that has now stretched on for almost three years. But the first sign of crocuses poking up through the snow has finally come for anime fans with the release of The Red Turtle. Granted, it isn't a completely in-house Ghibli production, as it's the result of an invitation from studio co-founder Isao Takahata to Dutch animator Michael Dudok de Wit to make a movie under their wing, with his own staff of animators. But even though it's got a very different flavor from something like Spirited Away, it's an unqualified triumph and an encouraging augury for future collaborations. The story, told with noise and music but no dialogue, focuses on a castaway who washes up on a remote shore. He must find food and shelter, but these are simple tasks on a temperate island that, while not a Garden of Eden, still offers clean water, nutrition, and useful materials. (He's even got company, in the form of a cluster of ghost crabs that scuttle about and watch him with curious interest.) Despite survival being so easy for him, his thoughts remain stuck on escaping. He builds a bamboo raft and sets off for home, but it's smashed apart by an invisible buffeting force under the water. He can't figure out who or what is destroying his means of escape until, on his third departure, he comes face-to-face with his adversary. That encounter leads to an act of terrible cruelty, committed in anger, whose repercussions shape the rest of his life. Dudok de Wit's director and animator credits stretch all the way back to that stoner-geek classic Heavy Metal (1981), but prior to this he's only made shorts and commercials. This tale, a sort of Robinson Crusoe inflected with magic realism, is his first full-length feature (granted, it clocks in at a spare 80 minutes). Legally it's a Studio Ghibli release, but in spirit it's more European, and the overwhelming crowd of French and Belgian names in the credits testifies to why its stark outlines, cartoonishly abstracted characters, and richly detailed backgrounds are reminiscent of a Tintin comic. In fact, one shot of a character standing against a lapis-blue sky on butter-colored sand is a near quote of a panel from Tintin's Land of Black Gold. That scene's glaring midday palette is only one of many impressionistic observations of the way colors shift depending on the time of day, from the violaceous wash of dusk to the silver-black chiaroscuro of night. The film's tremendous attention to the details of the natural world -- the way waves crash and melt into the shore's wet sand; the way leaves ruffle in the breeze; the way crabs, no matter how adorable they are, will scamper over to nibble on any rotting flesh -- expresses a feeling somewhere between sublime admiration and a bittersweet acknowledgement of how life feeds on death. C.S. Lewis once said that "a children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest," but The Red Turtle is the exact opposite: It's a story for adults told with the simplicity of a nursery fable. It can be read as a metaphor for being stuck in life, whether literally on an island or figuratively in a job, a relationship, or a town that you hate, and about making peace with that situation; as Emily Prager wrote in her short story A Visit From the Footbinder: "The only way to escape your fate is to enjoy it." It earns its PG rating from two or three moments of heartrending tension and peril, but they pass quickly enough for young audiences. The Red Turtle is both a welcome palate cleanser from the usual hyperkinetic children's fare and a work of poignant and exquisitely understated storytelling.