I once went to an overnight marathon of every single Wes Anderson movie at an independent cinema in central London. They were all fantastic – obviously – except (ironically) Fantastic Mr. Fox, which I mostly slept through. So I’m finding it a little hard to get excited for Isle of Dogs, despite the fact that’s it’s already winning awards and charming reviewers at film festivals.
On the other hand, I do love a good Wes Anderson movie so I’m willing to give Isle of Dogs the benefit of the doubt. The cast is truly exceptional, there are very few voices here that you’re not going to recognize, while the plot is both intriguing and clever. Lady and the Tramp, this is not.
In a dystopian future Japan, the corrupt mayor of a fictional megacity has taken extraordinary steps to combat the spread of canine diseases, exiling all dogs to a remote, offshore rubbish dump. The dogs are, understandably, less than impressed by this particular turn of events.
Then Atari (Koyu Rankin), an intrepid twelve-year-old pilot, arrives on the island in search of his dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber). A motley crew of mutts named Chief (Bryan Cranston) Rex (Edward Norton), Boss (Bill Murray) Duke (Jeff Goldblum) and King (Bob Balaban) agree to help Atari look for his beloved companion.
This forces them to explore the more dangerous parts of the island, including industrial wasteland and an abandoned funfair. Meanwhile, a pro-dog student group is rising up against the mayor, Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura, one of the film’s co-writers) with the help of research scientist Yoko Ono-San, voiced by actual Yoko Ono, naturally. Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand and Courtney B. Vance also star.
Although the visuals steer firmly away from the popular Japanese concept of kawaii, or cuteness, there’s a definite nod to more traditional Japanese art forms and other aspects of popular culture. Anderson has said that the film was strongly influenced by the films of Akira Kurosawa as well as the stop-motion animated holiday specials made by Rankin/Bass Productions.
Like most Wes Anderson films, Isle of Dogs looks freaking gorgeous in a shabby, dog-eared (pardon the pun) sort of way. And like most Wes Anderson films, it’s unlikely to deliver a strong emotional payoff or leave the viewer entirely satisfied that the story actually had a point or even an ending.
That’s not a criticism, merely an observation. Anderson has always focused on aestheticism and messaging over plot. It’s one of the things that make his films so compelling. They certainly aren’t nonsensical or even surrealist but they keep you searching for some deeper meaning that you can sense but that keeps drifting out of your reach, sitting on the sidelines of your mind and refusing to budge.
You can find the release date for your country on IMDB.