Isle of Dogs, 2018.
Directed by Wes Anderson.
Featuring the voice talents of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson, Greta Gerwig, Liev Schreiber, Harvey Keitel, Courtney B. Vance, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Ito, Akira Takayama, Koyu Rankin and Yoko Ono.
ISLE OF DOGS tells the story of ATARI KOBAYASHI, 12-year-old ward to corrupt Mayor Kobayashi. When, by Executive Decree, all the canine pets of Megasaki City are exiled to a vast garbage-dump called Trash Island, Atari sets off alone in a miniature Junior-Turbo Prop and flies across the river in search of his bodyguard-dog, Spots. There, with the assistance of a pack of newly-found mongrel friends, he begins an epic journey that will decide the fate and future of the entire Prefecture.
Back in 2012, The New Yorker ran a piece titled “Does Wes Anderson Hate Dogs?” discussing his tendencies to kill animals in his films, particularly dogs. Well, the fact that the title for his newest film sounds like “I love dogs” when said out loud is no mere coincidence. The Texas-born filmmaker returned home to close the SXSW Film Festival with a film full of political messages, gorgeous animation and some good, good, boys.
After a neatly animated prologue about the endless war between dogs and cats, we cut to Megasaki City in the not-too-distant future.
Wes Anderson has made his most political and timely film yet, and the script credited to him, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura wastes no time getting to the Brexit parallels.
The leader of a family that’s hated dogs for generations, Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura, looking an awful lot like Toshiro Mifune) announces that a plague has befallen man’s best friend, and that they must all be sent away to Trash Island – which is exactly as it sounds like. As an apparent sign of goodwill, he decides that his own dog Spots (Liev Schreiber) will be the first one deported to the island. The problem? That dog serves as bodyguard to Kobayashi’s young ward, Atari (Koyu Rankin).
What is a boy to do but steal a small plane and fly to Trash Island to find his dog? It is here that Isle of Dogs evolves into an epic adventure film, as Atari meets a pack of Alpha dogs who have to vote on every single decision before acting. Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), King (Bob Balaban) comprise this new family, each his unique personalities, while still following Anderson’s familiar troupe of eccentrics looking for their place in the world.
It comes as no surprise that Wes Anderson can make beautiful-looking films, and Isle of Dogs is not exception. From the hand-drawn animation during the prologue and news clips, to the design of Trash Island – a living ecosystem with distinct characteristics and color palettes that feels as a small city with its own districts. Every single frame of the movie looks designed to be featured on OnePerfectShot. Anderson’s signature style of symmetrical compositions really fits the stop-motion animation, and it’s to the animators’ credit that the dogs never get anthropomorphized, but instead act just like dogs.
In a time where most films decide to whitewash their characters and ignore or butcher the cultures portrayed in the story, Anderson puts all worries to rest in Isle of Dogs. This is as much a love letter to Japanese culture as it is to our canine friends. There are shoutout to Miyazaki and Mecha-Godzilla, and Kurosawa gets so many nods the Seven Samurai theme plays twice. More than this, is the fact that the film has its actual Japanese actors speak in their mother tongue that deserves recognition. Only the dogs speak English, as well as a foreign exchange student played by Greta Gerwig who gets involved in a student protest and discovers a possible conspiracy. It is refreshing to see a film confident that its audience will find the film engaging enough to not mind having most of the dialogue untranslated and un-subtitled. Still, Isle of Dogs manages to convey the most important pieces of dialogue via UN-style interpreters, newspaper articles and other inventive ways of conveying the message.
Despite numerous scenes providing plenty of laughs, and a bunch of cute doggos, this is neither a comedy nor a family film. Isle of Dogs deals with heavy and dark themes of corruption, xenophobia and how authoritarian governments can so quickly spread lies and change an entire population’s mentality (told you this was timely). There’s dogfights, dogs losing ears, and several deaths – including an assassination via sushi sub-plot!
By the time the credits roll on, Isle of Dogs will have made you laugh, cry and most of all, it will leave you wanting to hug the hell out of your dog. The wonderful cast, beautiful animation, and Alexandre Desplat’s ferocious use of Japanese war drums and Western-sounding orchestration all get together to make a near-perfect mix of escapism and political criticism that we’ll be talking about for years. Except for cat-lovers, they will want to riot.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★