Film: “Isle of Dogs”; Director: Wes Anderson; Voice Cast: 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; Rating: ***
Without any formal attribution yet with a trail of notable strokes in his film, “Isle of Dogs”, director Wes Anderson acknowledges that he has been strongly influenced by the Japanese auteur Akira Kurosawa.
Set 20 years in the future in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki, dog flu virus has become a major problem. Although the scientist, Professor Wantanabe is close to finding a cure, the mayor, a cat lover named Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), insists that the best solution for the problem is to banish all dogs to Trash Island. The first to be deported is Spots (Liev Schreiber) the pet of his ward, Atari (Koyu Rankin).
Years later, many more canine pets of Megasaki are disposed to Trash Island. The abandoned dogs make the island their home. They now roam the wasteland where food is scarce and survival of the fittest is the way of life. The narrative focuses on five alpha dogs – Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum). Together the quintet band to forge ahead.
Soon they discover the 12 year old Atari who happens to crash land on the island in search of his lost pet, Spots. While the group of Alpha dogs decide to help Atari, Chief is reluctant as he is not entirely happy about the new developments, after all, he is a stray dog who does not believe in human-canine relationships.
Meanwhile in the city, the Mayor declares Atari dead and as part of a campaign promise, he prepares to kill all the dogs on the island. Will he succeed or not, forms the crux of the narrative.
Despite cardboard thin characters and a weak story line, the film is entertaining. While on the face of it, the film seems like a simple animated film to entice children, in reality the film is layered.
With restrained humour targeting adults, the film is an allegory that touches upon the socio-political scenario of today’s times. It intelligently and subtly tells us about politicians who deport a group of unwanted people to uninhabitable places very similar to filthy concentration camps and how they do anything – use fear, lies and propaganda, to eliminate competition. It is this aspect, the layered complexity of the tale that the younger generation will fail to identify with.
With exceptional stop-motion animation, solid voice performances and a memorable soundtrack by the most talented Alexandre Desplat, the film is a spectacular audio-visual exercise.
Visually, the film is quirky, enthralling and a detailed-rich world to absorb. The animation is simply sublime. The design of the characters is charming — the dogs look dirty but at the same time adorable. The locations have mix of realistic and fantastical features – the mountains of garbage with all shades of greys and browns and the brighter colours of the city of Megasaki, are all a treat to the eyes.
Overall, despite a stretched narrative of 130 minutes, “Isle of Dogs” is a thought-provoking film that is worth a watch.
(Troy Ribeiro can be reached at [email protected])