Sunday, 22 April 2018

Isle of Dogs

Wes Anderson’s last two films (The Grand Budapest Hotel, Moonrise Kingdom) both made my top ten lists in their respective years, so I didn’t wait long to catch his latest film on the big screen. While I wouldn’t say Isle of Dogs disappointed me, because I thoroughly enjoyed it, it won’t be making my top ten list for 2018. 

Isle of Dogs features beautiful stop-motion animation, which is an art form I hugely respect, but it’s true that I prefer non-animated films. Like all Anderson films, Isle of Dogs is so quirky it can’t easily be compared to other films. That uniqueness is what’s so lovable about Anderson’s films and I enjoyed Isle of Dogs all the more for it.

Isle of Dogs is set in a dystopian future Japan, where all dogs in Megasaki City have been exiled to Trash Island due to a mysterious illness carried only by dogs. A scientist states he is close to finding a cure for the disease, but the mayor of the city is determined to carry out his decree. A foreign exchange student (Tracy Walker) suspects a conspiracy and begins to investigate.

Meanwhile, the plot follows the adventures of a young boy named Atari Kobayashi (the mayor’s nephew and ward) as he flies to Trash Island to hunt for his dog, Spots, which was the first dog to be exiled. Atari is assisted in his quest by five dogs who rescued him when his plane crashed on the island. Lots of craziness ensues. 

One of the things that makes Isle of Dogs special is the terrific cast, which includes Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Harvey Keitel and many more, including Japanese actors Koyu Rankin, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama and Akira Ito. I won’t bother to identify who plays whom. The humans in the film (except for Walker, played by Gerwig) speak Japanese (often with no subtitles), while the dogs speak English. Like I said, It’s not like anything you’ve seen before.

Besides being well-acted, Isle of Dogs is very intelligently written, with some hilarious dry humour and lots of imagination. Most of the film is engaging and fun, but there are two key problems that keep the film from receiving ****. The first of these is the film’s lack of ‘soul’, a word used by a certain daughter of mine, who asked to remain nameless lest she be denounced by rabid Anderson fans. To elaborate, my daughter claims that the characters and dialogue in Isle of Dogs (as in all Anderson films) lack emotional depth. I understand what she means and tend to agree, though I don’t feel as strongly about this as she does.

My biggest complaint is that too many scenes in Isle of Dogs felt superfluous to me, offering opportunities to show off the aesthetics while not adding anything vital to the story. This made the film needlessly disjointed and a little too long. So Isle of Dogs gets a solid ***+. My mug is up. 

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