Movie Review: ‘Isle of Dogs’
Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Akira Ito, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Yoko Ono, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe, Fisher Stevens, Liev Schreiber
Plot: In the near future the mayor of the Japanese city of Megasaki conspirers to eliminate the dog population by sending them to an island of trash. The mayor’s adopted ward travels to the island to find his dog Spots.
Review: Well, that’s the longest cast list we’ve had to write out (until Avengers: Infinity War). We didn’t even include all the big names, such as Anjelica Huston as a mute poodle. This kind of ensemble is testament to Wes Anderson’s appeal to both the arthouse and mainstream crowd. Having already delved into stop-motion animation with Fantastic Mr. Fox and this time around he’s pushing the art form further.
Anderson still puts his Buster Keaton influence front and centre, constructing his meticulous compositions with mostly locked off camera shots. This time around he’s also pulled in some ideas from the legendary Akira Kurosawa, who’s given a shout-out via the soundtrack of Seven Samurai being played on a radio. This is a director who knows how to draw on past masters and make it his own and he’s only going from strength to strength.
The animation is really slick, absolutely brilliant. Stop motion is an under-appreciated art form and it’s good to see it being produced by a major studio to such a strong degree. There’s some 2D animation mixed in to good effect for TV screens, which is an imaginative way to convey the information. Overall Anderson has improved on his previous animated work and produces a good deal of comedy from the pacing alone.
Much of the humour comes from unexpected places. Whilst the dogs are ‘translated’ into English the Japanese characters mostly speak in their native tongue with some translation provided on screen by Frances McDormand playing an interpreter. This leads to some clever gags as we’re left being able to understand the animals better than the humans, and it helps appreciate the initially hostile and later bonding relationship between Atari (Rankin) and Chief (Cranston).
There has already been some criticism of the depiction of Japanese culture in the film, and you can see why people have taken issue with what could be viewed as a simplistic or stereotypical portrayal of the country. I think this ignores the fact that this is intended to be a stylistic decision and that many cultures are depicted in a similarly stylised manner in previous Anderson films – Owen Wilson’s character in The Royal Tenenbaums being an example. Having said all that, I can see why some people don’t enjoy this aspect of the film.
It’s a well crafted film that only comes apart in the third act. Some character threads ultimately feel unjustified and tangental to the main plot. The story doesn’t quite know when to end, as we go from the main character reaching an emotional conclusion to another sequence to yet another sequence.
Whilst the themes and characters a bit heavy to bring to the younger kids, this is a rich and enjoyable story that is well worth your time.
Rating: EIGHT out of TEN