Dir. Wes Anderson
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Kunichi Nomura, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Akira Ito, and Scarlett Johansson.
It seems almost trite these days to describe yourself as a Wes Anderson fan. The director moved from cult hero into the mainstream with his last movie The Grand Budapest Hotel. The director is almost a genre unto himself now, his films defined by their unique visual style, dead pan delivery of dialogue, and Anderson’s ever expanding troupe of actors. Isle Of Dogs isn’t the first stop-motion animation Anderson has made either, his last one being Fantastic Mr. Fox. For any other director these films would be experiments, or oddities in their CV, but Anderson’s sensibilities lend themselves to the format.
Isle Of Dogs is set in a futuristic, fictionalised version of Japan. An outbreak of dog flu, which is threatening the human population, forces Mayor Kobayashi to exile all the dogs to Trash Island. The place where all the cities garbage goes. The first dog to head over is Spot, the Mayor’s Nephew’s Dog. His Nephew, Atari then steals a plane to fly to Trash Island to rescue his dog, being helped along the way by a pack of alpha dogs.
This movie is a complete joy. I was slightly sceptical going in, I wasn’t sure how much I would get out of the format, or if Anderson would skew too young to hold my attention. I shouldn’t have worried, I was in a safe pair of hands, and the film is captivating and engaging throughout. It feels odd to say, but I believe that this is a film that deserves to be seen on the big screen. The level of detail gone into creating this world is stunning, and the film looks gorgeous. Wes Anderson directs his live action films as if they exist in a dolls house, and this style with way in which depth is used, and the way the camera moves in his film, is an ideal match for stop-motion. If anything it expands Anderson’s vision, allowing him to make a film more epic in scope.
It’s primarily a kids film, but there is a deeper, darker heart to it. It has an emotional core that you’d expect from a film about a boy looking for his lost dog, and whilst the dead pan delivery of Anderson’s cast doesn’t immediately lend itself to cutting straight to the heart, Anderson has crafted a deeply moving film about love, belonging and loyalty. There is darkness here though, which is far from cookie cutter. There are themes of genocide, conformity, and political manipulation, which when paired with the history of Japan brings out a deeper meaning. The kids might not understand it, but there is more going on under the surface of this film than it first appears. It’s this darkness which robs the film of its charm in the final act of the movie. The jokes and humour give way to something more serious, slowing down the pace, and ultimately causing it to drag.
There has been some debate about the film regarding Orientalism. It didn’t bother me at the time of watching, but the more I think about it, there is something there . There is a lot of affectionate homage, and this is a fictionalised Japan which does mean liberties are taken. If there are controversial moments, they hold no intent. There are two creative decisions which grate the most. The first is the fact that unless someone is there to translate, the Japanese language goes unheard and ignored. If they could put subtitles down for signs, they could have put subtitles for the Japanese, it’s a cute creative decision to have other characters translate the news segments, but it turns the other moments the language is used into meaningless nothing. Making it a secondary language. The other element which grated was Greta Gerwig’s foreign exchange student. In a film full of Japanese figures, having the only white one become the leader of the resistance is a bit of a problem.
Isle Of Dog’s is another great movie from Wes Anderson. It’s lovingly made, and looks fantastic. It manages to be both funny and moving, whilst riffing on some more adult themes. The politics might be a bit off, but I don’t believe there was any intent to offend. It’s just a bit blinkered. If you’d like to know more about this check out this article https://www.buzzfeed.com/alisonwillmore/isle-of-dogs-jared-leto-orientalism?utm_term=.uf19MBb7O#.tvvplm36j