By Michael Kalafatis (Stoke on Trent)

 

In Japan, twenty years from now a canine flu spreads throughout the canine population of Megasaki city and its authoritarian Mayor Kenji Kobayashi by executive decree banishes every type of dogs stray or domesticated into a trash island which is also known as Isle of Dogs. The first dog to be exiled is Spots (Liev Schreiber), a dog-bodyguard who belongs to Atari (Koyu Rankin), the twelve year old nephew and ward of Mayor Kobayashi. Six months passes, Atari steals a small plane with a plan to rescue Spots, he reaches Trash Island by crashing his plane into smithereens but luckily he meets a pack of affable alpha dogs: Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) and Chief (Bryan Cranston) a former stray, who is reluctant to help Atari or have any association with any human.

Isle of Dogs is the second stop-motion film directed by Wes Anderson after 2009 Fantastic Mr. Fox and his ninth film overall, it features a myriad of talented actors lending their voices to either canines or humans, they are many Anderson’s regulars like Edwards Norton, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, Frances McDormand and Harvey Keitel but also newcomers like Bryan Cranston, Liev Schreiber, Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johansson, Koyu Rankin and Kunichi Nomura.

Anderson invites us into the dystopian world of the Japanese archipelago, where all the corrupted and immoral characters who are closely associated with Mayor Kobayashi are feline lovers, who despise the “minority” who prefer the companionship of dogs. Thus the sudden appearance of canine flu is exploited to expel all canines to Trash Island while ignoring Professor Watanabe research for the cure, which he is certain he can create in less than six months.

This conspiracy towards man’s best friend is an obvious allegory that subtly displays how totalitarian government forces its own agenda through manipulation of statistics and the media albeit in a whimsical and endearing way.

Even though Isle of Dogs is a stop-motion animation that invokes Studio Ghibli it still manages to retain all the techniques and idiosyncrasies found in the rest of Anderson’s oeuvre, like deadpan humor, recurring actors, the theme of dysfunctional family, bird’s -eye view, tracking shots, whip pan or tilt, scenes that verbally and visual explains a plan and lastly a distinct colour palette that changes from each film; which in Isle of Dogs is browns, grey, few reds and beige.

Every scene features an unparalleled attention to detail while also convey kinetic energy that features fights that occurs inside a cloud with various dog limbs discernable or action sequences using tracking shots, all these indicate just how much time has gone into creating the world of Isle of Dogs, this meticulous attention to detail is what makes Anderson’s films worth to be watched more than once.

Isle of Dogs is a film that is greatly influenced by Akira Kurosawa Japanese most renowned director, it even features two songs taken from two Kurosawa’s films Kosame No Oka from Drunken Angel and Kanbei & Katsushiro – Kikuchiyo’s Mambo from Seven Samurai but the less obvious influences are taken from Yasujiro Ozu, there is one particular sequence that features Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig), a foreign exchange student at her host-family residence which is film in the exact same style as Ozu’s, who favoured low camera angles that showed the roof indicating entrapment while retaining the precise composition of each scene .

The most audacious thing that Anderson manages to do in this film is to feature Japanese characters speaking their native language, unsubtitled with the help of either machine or translator (Frances McDormand) to convey what is being said. This does not makes the film hard to understand, but it put the viewers in the same exact position with a myriad of canines who speak English and thus like the audience does not understand the Japanese characters. Anderson’s uses visual gags, facial expression or body language to convey what happens when Japanese characters talk unsubtitled or untranslated, this invokes the way silent films used to convey the plot or emotion of characters. Anderson takes advantage of this limitation to create amusing moments e.g. when Atari disappears Major Domo Informs Mayor Kobayashi of the incident, we only see Kobayashi sudden sad expression and we instantly realise what he internally feels.

The musical score is once again composed by Alexandre Desplat in his fourth collaboration with Anderson. The soundtrack features Desplat compositions influenced by eastern music and few Japanese songs. The instruments featured are mostly drums, saxophone and clarinets, it does not sounds like authentic Japanese music but as a Western idea of how Japanese music supposed to sound. The score is the embodiment of the themes that Anderson wanted to convey, themes like companionship, fraternity, working together against an adversary and the use of empathy when faced with hardship. Isle of Dogs is written and directed by Anderson so his active role in the musical aspect of the film should not come as a surprise, in every film he creates he always has a clear vision and that is the reason he knows exactly which part of Desplat’s score fits in which scene and how music can embellish a scene to convey the right mood.

Verdict: Wes Anderson returns to the world of stop-motion animation, creating a smart, odd and really funny film that features an unparalleled attention to detail that requires a second viewing to really immerse in its world.

Rating: 4/5

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