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Doggy dystopia

FILM REVIEW: Wes Anderson's stop-motion comedy Isle of Dogs (say it fast)

Trish Lee

Charlie Masters


01635 886663

Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs (15)
Running time 1hr 41mins
Rating: ****

ISLE of Dogs is more of the same from Wes Anderson’s cinematic confectionery – scrumptious baroque visuals, hip-ironic
gullibility, a script chock-full of loveable absurdities and postmodern whimsy galore. Just as 2014’s Grand Budapest Hotel saw the director channel a peculiarly middle-class American conception of interwar Europe (all snow-capped mountains, trench-coated gentry and lavish chocolate-box hotels), Anderson here envisages Japan through the prism of an outsider agog at the country’s post-war renaissance; his plasticine landscapes, replete with metabolist architecture and megacorp towers, flirt with (but never quite cross totally into the realm of) outright parody. Your enjoyment of it will be entirely predicated upon your capacity to stomach the rest of Anderson’s filmography – it’s so playful and guileless as to evoke that unique sense of the uncanny the maestro has claimed as his signature, though its childlike veneer here threatens to give way to something much darker lurking just behind the scenes.

It’s among Anderson’s most accessible films to date – perhaps even his most instantly loveable – yet his art direction appears to have taken a gloomy, tantalising turn, evidenced here as he conjures trash heaps and dysfunctional metropolises to people with ninjas and talking dogs. In the not-too-distant future, the evil Mayor Kobayashi (voiced by Kunichi Nomura) of Megasaki City (yes…) decrees that the local pooches be exiled to Trash Island, after an outbreak of ‘dog flu’ reduces the nation to a Ghost in the Shell-esque mess. Among the dispossessed dog-lovers is Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), the mayor’s preteen nephew, who sets off on a madcap quest to rescue his pet; once on Trash Island, he is aided by a friendly pack of talking canines, led by hardcase Chief (Bryan Cranston). The latter is, by far, the highlight of the film – while you might consider yourself a tad old for a talking animal flick, Cranston’s voice work, coupled with the splendid animation, evokes a hero we can all root for, a grizzled survivor with a well-concealed moral conscience.

Accusations of cultural tactlessness are almost certainly misplaced – far from a xenophobic caricature, Anderson’s is a toybox vista, gentle, sassy and surprisingly subversive in its flirtations with Japanese stereotypes. Though its shoehorning-in a cheeky Yoko Ono cameo will be too much for some, Isle of Dogs (say it fast) balances perfectly juvenile astonishment and artistic
sophistication – in its own, oddball sort of way, the movie is possessed of an uncompromising vision and self-confidence. I feel this will one day make for a worthy double bill with Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, a film that has also been tagged with (more plausible) allegations of Orientalism; both movies deal with a Japan as alien to Western palates as it was those of their great-grandparents, yet, whereas Coppola is content to look on from the distance, to find melancholy and torment in the Land of the Rising Sun, Anderson dares to extract it from its box and have fun with it.

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