Isle of Dogs

Note: no spoilers here

“Will you help him, the little pilot?”
“Why should I?”
“Because he’s a twelve year old boy, dogs love those.”

Set about 20 years in the future in Megasaki City, Japan, the stop-animation drama Isle of Dogs follows a wide range of exiled canines sent to “Trash Island” due to a mysterious flu and a 12-year-old boy named Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin). Atari is ward to the corrupt Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura). A fear of this canine flu outbreak breeds corruption and injustice within the ruling government in Megasaki City lead by the Mayor and his right-hand man, Major Domo (Akira Takayama).

Wes Anderson (Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Grand Budapest Hotel) directed, wrote, and produced this film and won the Silver Bear for Best Director at the 68th Berlin International Film Festival. Anderson stages each shot with the characters often facing the audience. His overhead shots and related animated sequences involving various media also impress. Anderson teamed up with the German Studio Babelsberg on this impressive production that is incredibly rich and detailed.

Kunichi Nomura co-wrote the story with frequent Anderson collaborators Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola who also voiced Igor. This quality film references several other great films including Citizen Kane, Drunken Angel, 101 Dalmatians, Yojimbo, Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla, Akira, and An Angel at My Table.

The dead pan humor, unpredictable plot, and the fascinating visuals (e.g. use of alpaca wool for the dogs’ hair) blend into a rare breed of motion picture experiences.

Courtney B. Vance narrates this 101-minute gem as Interpreter Nelson (Frances McDormand) also provides key information during important events. Vance also introduces helpful section titles that enhance this satisfying experience and builds some anticipation that pays off well.

Audience must pay close attention to the Japanese characters as there are no English subtitles for most of their dialogue while English translations come for most of the Japanese writing shown.

As the title implies, filmmakers wisely keep the canine characters as the main focus here. The human characters and elements (e.g. sumo wrestling, haiku) enhance the plot yet are mainly supplementary even though there are occasionally human-only sequences.

Audiences must also draw on context and situational circumstances, especially in a great flashback sequence where Atari is in the hospital. This revealing sequence bonds a key relationship within a short amount of time yet produces suprisingly emotional sustainance for the remainder of the film.

The beginning background story sets the tone for a strong story that garners an incredibly talent cast lead by a short-haired Oceanic speckle-eared sport hound named Spots (Liev Schreiber) and Chief (Bryan Cranston). Chief’s pack of mongrel friends include the talkative Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), and the always informing Husky Duke (Jeff Goldblum).

Former show dog Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson) and two sage dogs named Jupiter (F. Murray Abraham) and Oracle (Tilda Swinton) play important canine roles. The funniest moments of the film surrounded the pug Oracle as her informative role helps the main pack progress through the plot.

Greta Gerwig melts into the memorable role of American exchange student Tracy Walker while Ken Watanabe’s talent is wasted in the head surgeon role. Her vigilant if not obssessive quest for justice through journalism forges one of the most memorable protagonists in recent film history. She’s supported by her fellow students and protestors to advocate and fight to save the dogs from the mayor’s plans.

Gondo (Harvey Keitel) and the Mute Poodle (Anjelica Huston) has short, but memorable roles while Yoko Ono voices an assistant scientist.

The music impresses with Alexandre Desplat’s musical score including “Shinto Shrine” and “Six Months Later + Dog Fight” combine well with songs like “Taiko Drumming.” “Kanbei & Katsushiro – Kikuchiyo’s Mambo (from The Seven Samurai),” and “I Won’t Hurt You” by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band.

Special features in the digital and blu-ray versions include several featurettes (animators, cast interviews, puppets, ode to dogs, settings, and weather/elements), an image gallery and theatrical preview.

Audio options include English DD 5.1, English Descriptive Audio 5.1, Spanish (Latin Spanish) DD 2.0, and French (Parisian) DD 2.0. Subtitle options include English for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, Spanish (Latin Spanish), and French (Parisian).

Shot in 16:9 format, the unique Isle of Dogs (say this title really fast if you’re a dog fan) comes highly recommended (***1/2 out of four stars) and is rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some violent images. The film’s climax has an effective impact while resolving the various conflicts and challenges while the results and potential future could easily prompt potential film prequels/sequels/spin-offs or related works.

Also, select Alamo Drafthouse cinema locations will celebrate National Dog Day on Sunday, August 26, 2018, with a special showing of Isle of Dogs with an exclusive conversation featuring director Wes Anderson and co-star Bob Balaban.

Copyright © Michael Siebenaler

 

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