Dir: Wes Anderson
Writers: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Kunichi Nomura
Musical Score: Alexandre Desplat
Cast (voices): Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Scarlett Johansson, Yoko Ono, Tilda Swinton, Liev Schreiber, Courtney B Vance, Anjelica Huston
101 mins, 2018 USA
Amazing Mr Anderson! His stop-motion futuristic story about dogs exiled and left to die on a huge rubbish dump off the coast of Japan celebrates loyalty, friendship, courage and general dogginess – all the qualities that since time immemorial have made dogs our very best friends.
When all the dogs in Megasaki City become infected with dog-flu and snout-fever, the wicked pro-cat anti-dog mayor whips up popular support for a decree that banishes all dogs to Trash Island, and sets an example by promptly sending off a dog from his own household. But the mayor fails to take into account his 12-year-old adopted nephew, Atari, who steals a plane and flies out to the island in search of his beloved Spots.
Surely Wes Anderson is the ultimate auteur – and Isle of Dogs is rich with his unmistakable shimmering theatricality – except of course that he doesn’t work on his own but is hugely collaborative. Here he works with long-term friends and collaborators Jason Schwartzman, Roman Coppola and Kunichi Nomura to produce a film that is consistently funny, warm-hearted, and visually stunning, and pays a massive homage to the greats of Japanese cinema, not least to the master of graphic storytelling, Hayao Miyazaki.
So, a film set in Japan in which all the humans (save Tracy, the visiting foreign student from Iowa, voiced by Greta Gerwig) speak Japanese, was made in studios in Bromley-by-Bow in East London, and grew out of – as Anderson told Kirsty Lang on BBC Radio 4’s Front Row – the seed of an idea that took root in his mind some years ago when, on the way to the same studios while working on another film (The Grand Budapest Hotel?), he saw a signpost to … the Isle of Dogs. Haven’t we all wondered at one time or another why the Isle of Dogs is called the Isle of Dogs? I certainly have. But it takes a Wes Anderson to grow a film out of it – a film set in Japan!
The dogs, each one wonderfully characterized, are voiced variously (and all lovingly, it seemed to me) by Bryan ‘Mr White’ Cranston, Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Liev Schreiber, Tilda Swinton, amongst others.
Ismay: It was incredible! Really funny! OMG – the dogs’ staring blue eyes!
The film is a visual feast, with scene after scene of startling clarity and beauty, humour and horror. The sushi chef with his live fish, crab and squirming squid tentacle (not to mention the smear of wasabi poison); the hilarious comic-book fights where you see just a cloud of white dust and the odd flashing limb; Atari and his canine friends outlined against a clear sky as they travel in a rusty cable car above the waste land of Trash Island; Atari standing on Chief’s back to look over to the old abandoned animal-experiment laboratory (where, we discover later, the dog-flu and snout-fever were deliberately created): a brief image as beautifully otherworldly as any in Miyazaki’s Nausicaa.
It also provides – without wanting to sound solemn about it – a satisfying intellectual engagement through a playful exploration of language, translation, and the joyful intermingling of Japanese and European culture. ‘The movie isn’t just in English or Japanese, it’s translation crazy,’ said Anderson in an interview with Sophie Monks Kaufman on Little White Lies (http://lwlies.com/) (reprinted in the Watershed info sheet). ‘I wanted language to play a role … You don’t necessarily know what people are saying a certain amount of the time, but you sort of get it.’
It’s only rarely that Ismay and I come out of a film and feel that we’d enjoy watching it all over again, as soon as possible. We both felt that way about The Grand Budapest Hotel. And we feel exactly the same about Isle of Dogs.