Director: Wes Anderson
Cast: Koyu Rankin, Scarlett Johansson, Greta Gerwig, Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Liev Schreiber, Fisher Stevens, Kara Hayward, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Courtney B. Vance, Ken Watanabe
RunTime: 1 hr 41 mins
Released By: 20th Century Fox
Opening Day: 10 May 2018
Synopsis: ISLE OF DOGS tells the story of ATARI KOBAYASHI, 12-year-old ward to corrupt Mayor Kobayashi. When, by Executive Decree, all the canine pets of Megasaki City are exiled to a vast garbage-dump called Trash Island, Atari sets off alone in a miniature Junior-Turbo Prop and flies across the river in search of his bodyguard-dog, Spots. There, with the assistance of a pack of newly-found mongrel friends, he begins an epic journey that will decide the fate and future of the entire Prefecture.
If you were in a room filled with film buffs, you wouldn’t make the mistake of dissing American filmmaker Wes Anderson’s movies. Any self respecting connoisseur would be able to rant off a list of traits which mark Anderson’s distinctive visual and narrative style: tracking shots, symmetry, palettes and patterns all play a part in the resulting quirky charm. The 49 year old auteur’s latest work, which won him the Silver Bear for Best Director at the Berlin Film Festival, has all those elements in place.
Returning to the stop motion animation genre after Fantastic Mr Fox (2009), Anderson writes, produces and directs a story about, well, an isle of dogs. Set in a dystopian near future in a fictional Japanese city, dogs are banished to an island under false health conditions like canine saturation, dog flu and snout fever. A boy, who is searching for his pet dog, finds himself being adopted by a motley crew of island dogs. And as you’d expect from an Anderson film, misadventures soon follow.
We did not expect Roald Dahl’s beloved novel Fantastic Mr Fox to be a peculiarly delightful film about family under Anderson’s direction, so our expectations are high with his second attempt with the genre. The stage is set with the disclaimer “All barks have been rendered into English”, and Frances McDormand’s character translating the Japanese dialogues peppered throughout the 101 minute film. You know what to expect – a classy and fun ride that will leave you feeling intelligent when the end credits start rolling.
The production values are first rate. The sets are intricately designed (these would be the most beautiful trash lands you will ever see on screen), the puppetry is fascinating (you will want to own all the characters and place them on your display shelf), and the music score composed by Alexandre Desplat is cheekily apt (watch out for the charismatic taiko drumming sequence).
The spectacularly star studded ensemble voice cast is any director’s dream come true. Bryan Cranston (Last Flag Flying), Edward Norton (Sausage Party), Bill Murray (The Jungle Book), Jeff Goldblum (Thor: Ragnarok), Harvey Keitel (The Ridiculous 6) and Liev Schreiber (My Little Pony: The Movie) display the ruff and gruff of the dogs they voice. Scarlett Johansson voices a sultry female purebred (we wouldn’t expect anything less for the Avengers star to portray), Tilda Swinton (Doctor Strange) voices a sagely dog, Anjelica Huston (50/50) voices a mute poodle (but of course, coming from Anderson’s film), while Greta Gerwig voices a righteous American exchange student (the vocal filmmaker of the critically acclaimed Lady Bird seems to be the perfect choice for this role). Elsewhere, Japanese artistes like Ken Watanabe (Transformers: The Last Knight), Koyu Rankin, Kunichi Nomura and Yoko Ono (how Wenderson managed to get John Lennon’s second wife to say yes is probably worthy of another movie on its own) are also involved.
Viewers who are familiar with Anderson’s previous films will realise that he likes to feature a recurring cast (Norton, Murray, Keitel, Gerwig and Huston among others), and will smile contentedly at the humour injected throughout the film. Those who are familiar with the director’s works will be gleefully pointing out similarities in films like The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), Moonrise Kingdom (2012) and The Darjeeling Limited (2007). For this film set in Japan, film buffs can spend even more time indulging in academic discourse on culture and exploitation – rejoice!
(Everything you'd expect from a Wes Anderson film - and oh, the trash lands on this Isle of Dogs are gorgeous!)
Review by John Li