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ISLE OF DOGS

WORDS: Hannah FitzSimons

Isle of Dogs is a tale of corruption, loss and broken families. It tells the story of Atari Kobayashi, the ward to the mayor of Megasaki (a fictional Japanese district), who is on the search for his beloved dog, Spots. Set twenty years in the future, Spots and his fellow dogs have been sent to Trash Island because of a contagious outbreak of 'canine flu' which has struck every single hound living in Megasaki. We largely follow the story from the viewpoint of a pack of dogs, led by long-time stray, Chief (Bryan Cranston).

You could easily win big in a game of Wes Anderson Bingo while watching this film. Many of his regular collaborators appear in the cast list (including Edward Norton, Bill Murray and Tilda Swinton). Although it diverges from the director's traditional structure, the pack still encounters Anderson's favourite issues; struggling father figures, absent parents, precocious children. This is all knitted together by Anderson's unmistakeable style of symmetrical visuals, bird's-eye viewpoints and tracking shots.

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The attention to detail is the work of a perfectionist, which, let's face it, Anderson is. The experience of watching Isle of Dogs is like flicking through a copy of Where's Wally? Although set in a fictional district, the Japanese identity is clearly exhibited through the presence of traditional art, discarded sake bottles, and the (rather heavy and unconventional) use of wasabi. And, as in Anderson's last feature, The Grand Budapest Hotel, the small details are incredibly thought through. Lab test result cards, top secret files, political candidate badges and graffitied propaganda – all would serve as mere props in your standard film, but here they are essential visual cues. The animation is also incredibly intricate; you can almost see where the animator's hands have moulded the puppets, and the wonderful use of cotton wool for explosions is reminiscent of '60s children’s shows like The Magic Roundabout. In an age where many films are made merely for the sake of it, it's refreshing to see one that resembles a work of art more than anything else.

Many of the secondary characters – like Jupiter and Oracle (voiced by F. Murray Abraham and Tilda Swinton) – leave a lasting impression because they are so well developed, despite having a lack of screen time. However this is not always the case, with Chief's pack largely blending in with one another despite being voiced by big names such as Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum.

In the current political climate it's hard not to draw parallels with any dystopian story. Here, it's almost too easy. Despite the 1984 feel to the politics, the themes of corruption, rigged elections and displaced beings feel all too familiar. This could be coincidence, but does Anderson ever really do anything by accident? "Whatever happened to man's best friend?" becomes an all too real question.   

It has previously been suggested that Anderson hates dogs, notably by Ian Crouch in The New Yorker. The ill fate of Moonrise Kingdom's Snoopy and The Royal Tenenbaums' Buckley are just the surface of his track record with dogs. But here, despite the loss of the occasional floppy ear, Anderson has truly redeemed himself.