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Hounds of love
A Jacques Cousteau adventure, an ornate European hotel tale, two children in love and an animated fox… It doesn’t seem to matter how diverse this director’s works are, they are all unmistakably Wes Anderson films. Camus visits the ISLE OF DOGS...
 
  "We started working on the movie maybe six years ago, so the world changed a lot while we were making it. We often thought what's happening around us was related to what's happening in the story. We started by looking to history but as we were making the movie it became more about looking to the front page of the newspapers for our inspiration."
  Director Wes Anderson*

 

Canine able… Let the puns commence. Sight and Sound titled their Anderson piece last month with 'Where Beagles Dare' which was lovely despite there being no actual beagles in the film. Let's also remind ourselves of the pun of the actual title… Isle of Dogs. I love dogs too. And I really do. The death of my springer-collie cross three years ago at the age of only nine knocked me for six. She's still on my home phone screen… I went into Isle with absolutely no expectations (you could accuse me of lying given my Ready Player Onereview but it's almost totally true). I'd not even seen the trailer. The afore mentioned Sight and Sound piece lay unread (until I'd seen the film) and a huge thank you is due to my son for giving me the incentive to dismiss the grey, dripping Tupperware cloudscape we seem to be living under these days and simply go to the movies. The film was an utter delight, which curiously ties in with my latest Blu-ray review of The Passenger. We're talking art again, folks. Its one hour and forty-one minutes flew by stuffed with true originality and invention in every shot and, notably it holds the top spot for the longest animated film. No one makes films quite like Wes Anderson and it's something of a miracle to me that he manages to get such great studio support. Imagine the pitch to the executives at Fox Searchlight…

"OK, it's about a society that banishes universally sick pet dogs to an island full of trash and how one young dog owner, bravely taking to the skies, goes searching for his faithful hound and sparks a social revolution. Oh, and it's set in Japan and will be presented in the original Japanese. With no subtitles."

"Uh, you're kidding, right?"

"No. The dogs will be speaking English though and we have quite the line up of voice talent. Sorry, did I mention it's a practical 'real' model animated film skewed more to adults than children?" This man must have the charm of a thousand Clooneys, a lot like his film.

Isle of Dogs

Going in cold, I have to say the Japanese aspect was the most surprising element (with a trio of Taiko drummers to get us started) and there really are no subtitles. It's told from the dogs' perspectives, which is why we sort of assume that they can't understand Japanese any more than they can interpret English – except for the odd trigger words. This language barrier is nothing of the sort. The cadences of the Japanese language become a lyrical soundtrack to a non-Japanese speaker and it takes no time at all to get used to the convention. In fact, there is a delicious tease in anticipating how the filmmakers are going to give us the narrative points we need to move forward. Despite the lack of subtitles, those points materialise in endlessly creative ways. Dogs also manages to tick the Hitchcock box, the one that says that the sound could be muted and you should still be able to follow the story, film being a visual medium after all. Granted, there are many on screen graphics and titles to help you along. This film changes time frames more often than Superman saving Lois Lane by turning time backwards but it's all perfectly clear and uniquely entertaining. I will say that you will see nothing like this film probably for the rest of your life. There have been noises about the anti-Japanese depiction reliant on criminally over-used meta-clichés (I overdid that, right?) but I could see none of that. It would take someone with more immersion in Japanese culture to understand how Anderson may have slighted said culture and that's simply not me. I was just delighted by the story, the fervent and exquisite imagination on offer and its presentation. If I should be offended by some aspects of the film then someone needs to explain to me why. If the truth changes, then I change with it.

There's a four pack of once pet dogs on the island and what a thespianic line up it is… Fight Club's Edward Norton is Rex, Close Encounters' translator Bob Balaban plays King, the incomparable Bill Murray is Boss and principle rumourmonger is Jeff Goldblum as Duke. Each character name asserts its own dominance but all four are played as equals. This is the core quartet and the closest the film has to a Greek chorus. The outsider stray is played by the ultimate bad boy of modern TV, Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston. As Chief, he experiences the most satisfying 'arc' in terms of character and something as basic as fur colour allows him the most visually remarkable transformation. As if that quintet was not enough to raise curious eyebrows, here's an unashamed list of more voice talents. OK, some of them have merely one or two lines but this list of worthies tells you all you need to know about Wes Anderson's considerable charm. He has a golden Rolodex if physical address books are still currency in this 'app' soaked world.

Isle of Dogs

If you could name some of the top power women of modern Hollywood, then you're very well informed and would probably come up with a line up approximating this lot; Frances McDormand (this year's Best Actress Oscar winner) as Interpreter Nelson, Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow but also Lost in Translation's Charlotte) as Nutmeg, the performing show dog. Then there's Tilda Swinton as Oracle, an actress I would place – if not at number one in terms of talent – then knocking vigorously on that particular door. Oscar nominee for best director gives us Greta Gerwig as Tracy Walker (the white befreckled conspiracy theorist that seems to be at the heart of why certain people have issues with the movie) and – and this was the WTF casting – Yoko Ono plays Assistant Scientist Yoko Ono. If this name merely rings a bell, get involved with why today (the 4th April 2018) is a fifty-year anniversary of a notable event and while you're Googling, you may want to add to 'peace', 'Lennon' and 'the Beatles' to your search. It is surprising how many known actors disappear into character when you can't see their faces, never mind artists who rarely use their voices in movies. But I still think her role is noteworthy as is her big scene. The credit that fries your mind just a little is of course Anjelica Huston as Mute Poodle. OK… Given what we now know, you'd think the role was also somewhat moot. The Japanese cast do a great job with kudos specifically to Koyu Rankin as Atari Kobayashi, the boy-hero who defies his adoptive family over the love of a dog. In charge of the city's dog-laws is cat-lover Mayor Kobayashi played by Kunichi Nomura with a furious and barely restrained relish. Akira Ito as Professor Watanabe is the determined scientist who creates the antidote for the dogs' ailment but presenting it to an administration comparable to one we all know, his 'truth' is disregarded, buried even and the man himself, disposed of.

Isle of Dogs (as should we all) is a superlative fantasy with a truckload of imagination and a real heart at its centre. Bravo, Wes!

 


* https://www.timeout.com/london/film/wes-anderson-i-would-love-to-do-a-story-set-in-dickensian-london

Isle of Dogs poster
Isle of Dogs

USA / Germany 2018
101 mins
directed by
Wes Anderson
produced by
Wes Anderson
Jeremy Dawson
Steven Rales
Scott Rudin
written by
Wes Anderson
story by
Wes Anderson
Roman Coppola
Jason Schwartzman
Kunichi Nomura
cinematography
Tristan Oliver
editing
Edward Bursch
Ralph Foster
Andrew Weisblum
music
Alexandre Desplat
production design
Paul Harrod
Adam Stockhausen
starring
Bryan Cranston
Koyu Rankin
Edward Norton
Bob Balaban
Bill Murray
Jeff Goldblum
Kunichi Nomura
Akira Takayama
Greta Gerwig
Frances McDormand
Akira Ito
Scarlett Johansson
Harvey Keitel
F. Murray Abraham
Yoko Ono
Tilda Swinton
Ken Watanabe
Mari Natsuki
Fisher Stevens
Nijiro Murakami
Liev Schreiber
Courtney B. Vance

UK distributor
20th Century Fox
UK release date
30 March 2018
review posted
5 April 2018

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See all of Camus' reviews