“By Executive Decree, all the canine pets of Megasaki City are exiled to a vast garbage-dump.”
(Written and Directed by Wes Anderson)
I profess, before I went into the cinema, I already knew I would be somewhat enthusiastic about the latest Wes Anderson film. Since I watched Grand Budapest Hotel, I became enthralled by his unique style of storytelling, almost as if he is reading a story to us through his camerawork and quirky production design. Isle of Dogs seemed to be everything I would adore – and I can confirm Anderson met my expectations, and yet his use of subtext still took me by surprise.
For those unaware of the plot of this film, it is a stop-motion animation about a young boy, Ataki (Koya Rankin), teaming up with 5 exiled canines to find his long, lost dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber). Inspired by Japanese folklore, audiences were transported into this heightened society where dogs were the pinnacle of hatred due to them carrying illnesses (or so the media thought). Of course, the point Anderson is trying to make is about the current fear-mongering ideology the mainstream media seems to be perpetuating, and using an animal that is widely loved as the centre of this film’s focus in order to make his message land. It certainly moved me in that sense, and it makes this film a more politically relevant piece compared to his other works that I have seen.
The ensemble cast is stellar, everyone giving such ‘traditionally Anderson’ performances that made me chuckle at various moments. Bryan Cranston as the stray dog, Chief, has such tenderness yet gruffness in his performance that makes his character so likable. Koyu Rankin’s performance as Atari was heartwarming and complimented Cranston’s Chief tremendously, even when I could not understand his dialogue. Of course, there were the other cast members that are well associated with Anderson’s work (Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, etc.) that provide a welcoming atmosphere for fellow Anderson lovers. The new actors in this ‘Anderson world’ give fantastic vocal performances that truly connected with the iconic dry humour Anderson gives in his script. The unique style of animation is visually exciting and has such texture that provides wondrous world-building, even though the materials they use oddly seem to be homemade.
Isle of Dogs does well to highlight the unjust nature of politicians manipulating the media to glorify their policies. However, one could argue that it is troublesome that the ‘villains’ of the film were native Japanese actors that were not being translated and the protagonists were native English actors (I would go further about other instances but that would be spoiler territory). When watching it, I did not particularly notice the subtle racial stereotyping I am presuming was not intended by the writers of the film, but when reflecting on its script it probably could have done with some more texture in character depth to prevent this. On the other hand, the whole point of Anderson’s films is to tell a story and Isle of Dogs is enriched in Japanese aesthetics and traditions that might make sense as to why the choice to not translate the Japanese text. Most likely they wanted to sell to an English-speaking audience so felt compelled to have English-speaking protagonists, but had native Japanese speakers whenever they could to stay true to the culture.
For those who love fantastically designed worlds that leave you enraptured, and dry humour, then I highly recommend Isle of Dogs to you. Whilst I admit Anderson’s style of storytelling is not for everybody, I still believe people should go and see it as an introduction to Wes Anderson’s work.
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ 1/2
Isle of Dogs is available to see in cinemas.