Isle of Dogs sees idiosyncratic director Wes Anderson make another foray into the world of stop motion animation. As with any Wes Anderson film enjoyment relies on a viewer’s attitude to his typically droll humour. Those who delight in quirky characters making ‘oh so ironic’ comments in expressionless voices will be in Heaven here while others may be grinding their teeth. Few, however, could fail to be entranced by the film’s visually striking and highly inventive animation which looks like an elaborate picture book come to life.
Isle of Dogs is set in a fictionalised version of Japan roughly 20 years in the future where a dog-hating politician (Kunichi Nomura) has consigned canines to the foreboding Trash Island where ragged, starving and diseased dog packs fight each other for survival. When 12-year-old boy Atari (Koyu Rankin) – who remarkably for a 12-year-old knows how to fly a plane – crashes on the island while searching for his long-lost dog, Spots, the dog inmates learn of a sinister political conspiracy against them. Mobilising dog leader ‘Chief’ (Bryan Cranston), his canine buddies and student activist (Greta Gerwig) Atari begins an uprising.
The film occasionally invokes some potent ideas such as the treatment of the poor, political corruption and activism. For the most part, though, politics and social commentary take a back seat to dry comedy as much of the film is composed of self-consciously ironic banter between the dogs. At times Anderson threatens to create a nauseating confection of quirkiness piled on top of quirkiness but as he so often does he manages to infuse the silliness with touching pathos. It also helps that Anderson has assembled a stellar voice cast that also includes Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, Ed Norton, Frances McDormand, Harvey Keitel, Jeff Goldblum and Scarlett Johansson.
The film has stirred controversy with its depiction of Japanese culture as some have accused it of cultural appropriation and stereotyping. While we should give a satirical fantasy film some latitude there is a disquieting sense of a culture foreign to white westerners being fetishised here. There’s also another cultural reference in this film that will prove extremely uncomfortable for Australian audiences. These unfortunate elements don’t by any means ruin Isle of Dogs but they will take many out of Anderson’s intricately conceived fantasy world for a large portion of the film.
Isle of Dogs probably won’t make fans of Wes Anderson detractors or even those in the middle but any viewer will be frequently mesmerised by this film’s technical achievements.
Nick’s rating: ***
Genre: Animation/ comedy/ drama.
Director(s): Wes Anderson.
Release date: 12th April 2018.
Running time: 101 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show