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  • Articles by Sonali

    Film review: Isle of Dogs

    Director Wes Anderson is known for his offbeat films. His whimsical new work ‘Isle of Dogs’, made using stop motion animation, is no exception. It’s set twenty years into the future, in a fictional dystopian Japanese city: Megasaki.

    Megasaki’s entire dog population is quarantined on Trash Island following an outbreak of canine snout fever. Twelve year old Atari (Koyu Rankin) is distraught without his pet dog Spots. He undertakes a quest to find him. 

    Atari finds a group of exiled dogs on Trash Island. They’re a rag-tag bunch (Rex, King, Duke and Boss), each with a distinct personality, aswell as matted fur and scuffed ears. They’re upset at being abandoned by their owners. The group is lead by a stray called Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston). 

    We’re told from the outset that they speak English. Chief’s catchphrase is ‘I bite’. The humans speak Japanese, mostly untranslated. There's much pathos as the dogs remember their previous pampered pooch lives in Megasaki. They embark on an action-adventure with Atari to find Spots. 

    Visually the film is inspired by Japanese cinema by Akira Kurosawa, and Hokusai’s wood block prints. Each scene is meticulously composed without being over the top.The idea for the film was actually sparked after Anderson noticed a road sign for the Isle of Dogs during a visit to London. 

    'Isle of Dogs' takes themes and motifs, old and new, from Japanese culture. It includes taiko drums (playing in the background for most of the film), sumo wrestlers, an adapted Hokusai painting (featuring dogs surfing a wave), sushi and even a voice cameo by Yoko Ono. 

    Anderson has been criticised for appropriating Japanese culture. In truth, the film is more of a appreciation of Japanese culture. He’s clearly a fan. The plot does jar in places though. There's a conspiracy surrounding Megasaki’s corrupt, tyrannical mayor Kobayashi (a cat lover) and it takes a random gap student Tracy (Greta Gerwig) from overseas to uncover the truth. The Japanese are sidelined. Also, Nutmeg's portrayal (Chief’s female counterpart) is gender stereotyped and flimsy. 

    'Isle of Dogs' has a PG-13 rating which is apt. Much of its quirky nuance is likely to go over the heads of small children. For instance, it focuses on the decay of Trash Island, part Industrial wasteland, part derelict fun park. Even the most striking of scenes is infused with a sense of grim reality i.e. we see a wriggling crab being chopped into sushi. 

    The film does lag towards the end and feels over long. It also frequently falls into a quiet lull, when the dogs are running about from place to place. On the other hand, it succeeds in highlighting the after effects of our consumer society and humankind’s capacity for cruelty. Anderson has created a coherent, joined-up, bittersweet world from Megasaki to Trash Island. And you simply can’t deny the film’s originality.


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