ISLE OF DOGS
Director: Wes Anderson
Screenwriter: Wes Anderson, from a story by Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura
Runtime: 101 mins.
Australian release date: 12 April 2018
Previewed at: Event Cinemas, George Street, Sydney, on 4 April 2018.
Lovers of animated films are in for a real treat with two of the year’s best opening in Australia this week. Both employ stop-motion animation techniques and both are well worth viewing: Aardman’s Early Man and Wes Anderson’s Isle Of Dogs. In the latter case, Anderson’s movie has divided the ranks, being unfavourably reviewed in some quarters because of its perceived cultural appropriation - it is set in Japan and much of the dialogue is in un-subtitled Japanese. I see it more as homage than rip-off. Like all good cinema, however, it’s a multi-layered production. At face value, it’s a classically simple tale of a boy searching for his lost dog; dig deeper and you’ll see a unique look at a problem that the world could face again, a mass flu epidemic (in this instance spread by man’s best friend); at an even deeper level, it’s an examination of humanity’s fear of ‘the other’, and how that fear can be manipulated by unscrupulous politicians.
Set in a dystopian Japan 20 years in the future, where an outbreak of ‘Snout-Fever’ is being contained to stop it crossing over to humans, the mayor of Megasaki City is banishing dogs from the mainland, via a lengthy conveyor belt, to a nearby island made almost entirely of garbage. There the animals survive as best they can, unable to come to terms with the fact that none of their owners have tried to rescue them, until the day a 12-year-old orphan boy, Atari (Koyu Rankin), crashes his plane on the island intent on finding his faithful body-guard dog Spots (voiced by Live Schreiber). Atari needed a body-guard because he is the ward of Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), although the mayor himself much prefers cats to dogs. Indeed, his regard for cats reminds one of SPECTRE’s Blofeld and his white Persian in the James Bond movies. The lad is reluctantly taken into the care of Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston), a no-nonsense stray who fancies himself the head of a pack of alpha dogs that hangs out together. Chief’s pals include the football jumper-wearing Boss (voiced by Bill Murray), former mascot of a Little League baseball team; Rex (Edward Norton), the real leader, if indeed there is one, of the pack; King (Bob Balaban), who used to be on TV advertising dog food; and Duke (Jeff Goldblum), whose ear for gossip provides the group with most of its information. Together, the gang set off to search Trash Island for Spots. There’s also a ‘love interest’ in the form of Nutmeg (voiced by Scarlett Johansson), a show-dog who performs acrobatic tricks, much to the delight of Chief. The dogs’ characteristics are as complex as humans’ and they each have expressions and modes of behaviour that are unique to their personalities.
Anderson has successfully channelled this make-believe world into a weird reality that’s both surreal and hypnotic. He takes us on a journey that is visually spectacular and draws deeply from the well of his love for the films of the late master Akira Kurosawa, the animation of Hayao Miyazaki, the famous woodblock prints of Hokusai, and pop culture in general (for example, a robot dog looks suspiciously like K-9 from the Doctor Who TV series to me). Composer Alexandre Desplat, collaborating for the fourth time with Anderson, has also created a Japanese-inspired score that utilises taiko drums to great effect. The dogs are voiced by Hollywood’s elite but it’s not surprising that he was able to entice them to represent his creations, given the director’s reputation in Tinsel Town. The list also includes Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Greta Gerwig, Anjelica Huston, Frances McDormand and even Yoko Ono gets to deliver a few lines. There is also the ‘awww’ factor that comes from the visual characterizations on screen because these are all lovable creatures, lovingly created, a credit to the vast production, animation and camera teams who brought them to life. Isle Of Dogs is an amazing, original work that easily crosses the child/adult divide; I guarantee you’ll feel like hugging the first dog you see after the screening.