“Isle of Dogs” Movie Review

Those dogs did NOT deserve the treatment they received. As the owner of a boxer, seeing anything like that portrayed on the big screen makes me uncomfortable. Acclaimed writer-director Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animated picture first premiered at the 2018 Berlinale in mid-February, where Anderson won a Silver Bear award for directing. After closing out the 2018 South by Southwest Film Festival, the film entered a limited American release on March 23rd, 2018. It has done rather well in its run thus far, grossing over $39.6 million at the box office and should perform even better once it releases widely on April 20th. Anderson’s ninth overall feature and his second using stop-motion animation, the story apparently was born out of the auteur’s obsessive love of the films from legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. It’s also said that he was heavily influenced by holiday specials by Rankin/Bass Productions as well as the exploits of Mecha-Godzilla. Set in a dystopian future, canines have not only grown to epidemic levels but have also contracted a new flu virus. Fearing transition to humans, Mayor Kobayashi of Megasaki City, Japan, banishes all dogs to Trash Island, where several of them form tight-knit packs. The mayor’s young ward and nephew Atari travels to the island in an effort to find his lost dog Spot, all the while civil unrest is becoming more apparent in the city. I’m a big fan of Wes Anderson and his works, some better than others. His previous film, 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, was one of the earliest reviews on my Blog and is perhaps one of my favorite comedies of the decades. So the prospect of him writing and directing another stop-motion picture 9 years after the wonderful Fantastic Mr. Fox? I’m already signed up before I read the plot synopsis. Well, I’ll say that Isle of Dogs is a lower-tier film coming from the American auteur, and certainly is no modern masterpiece. But still, that shouldn’t necessarily deter you from watching it because I had a fun time watching it. However, I’m unfortunately inclined to agree with a recent controversy that has arisen regarding this film. Specifically, Anderson and studio Fox Searchlight have been accused by a number of critics for misappropriating Japanese people and their culture. While there are a number of things that it does get right, it ultimately does succumb to certain Hollywood stereotypes. Moreover, some of them were played for laughs, a large amount of which I actually partook in. Among these was the language barrier between the Japanese, the dogs, and the Americans. While dog barks have been happily translated into English for us, the Japanese characters are often speaking without any subtitles, only aided by a running gag of a television translator. The concept was initially amusing but definitely stretched to the max. The hugely stacked ensemble voice cast does extremely well at almost every turn, especially some of Anderson’s regular collaborators. Including *deep breath* Edward Norton, Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Yoko Ono, Courtney B. Vance, Liev Schrieber, Akira Ito, Harvey Keitel, Ken Watanabe, Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Fisher Stevens, Akira Takayama, Greta Gerwig, Anjelica Huston, and co-writer Kunichi Nomura. With the possible exception of Gerwig, all of their characters feel like a worthy addition to the tight, almost flight-footed plot. Most of the dialogue is delivered in an extremely deadpan way, almost as if they’re all aware of the fact they’re in a movie. While there is an apparent melancholy to what everyone’s saying, the manner in which it’s said is nothing short of hilarious. And from a purely technical standpoint, Isle of Dogs is a Wes Anderson movie through and through. All of his distinct trademarks are in place, not the least of which includes the cinematography by Tristan Oliver. Capturing a certain color palette between gray and red, there are a number of static wide shots and close-ups. We also get to see his perfect symmetry where literally everything onscreen is shown in an exact order, from character arrangements to everyday items in the background. The differences in animation between this picture and Fantastic Mr. Fox are astounding with the improvements. Freezing just a single frame would be worth extensive analysis on its own with all the details on the figures and environments. What’s more impressive is that even something like explosions or fight scenes are put together with puffy clouds of cotton, not CG. Plus the editing by Ralph Foster and Edward Bursch is frenetic. Often, something serious or drawn out will be punctuated by an abrupt cut, eliciting real laughter out of my audience. In his 4th collaboration with the director, and the umpteenth in his seemingly endless cinematic hot streak, Alexandre Desplat composes the musical score. One of the most obvious instruments heard here is traditional taiko drums with deep impacts and pulsating rhythms. It is frequently accompanied by ferocious work from auxiliary equipment such as steel pipes and cowbells, which maintain the craziness of this story. Meanwhile, Desplat also manages to incorporate a set of bamboo whistles into perfectly idiosyncratic melodies. In all of this effort, he totally succeeds in making a Western film sound as foreign as possible to audiences while still making it not sound too alien to enjoy. With some truly stunning stop-motion animation, an appropriately self-aware cast, and a compelling story that flies by through its 101 minute-long runtime, Isle of Dogs is a whimsical adventure that occasionally gets bogged down in politics. Fans of Wes Anderson will certainly have a lot to chow down on repeat viewings, even though this definitely isn’t measured up to his finest work. One last thing: If you say the title fast enough, you’ll begin saying, “I love dogs.” And this movie might just convert you to a lover, if you aren’t one already.

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1 thought on ““Isle of Dogs” Movie Review

  1. Pingback: Retrospective: 2018 Superlatives | Geek's Landing

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