Apparently, I need to make more friends who are willing to watch Wes Anderson films. I adore all of his films but find it very difficult to find people who aren’t put off by his quirkiness. That’s why it’s taken me so bloody long to finally get round to watching his second animated feature. If you’ve been around for a while you’ll know that I really love Fantastic Mr Fox and the adorable stop-motion animation. So I was really excited about seeing this. I just couldn’t find anyone else who was as excited. I’ve always found it hard to get the people in my life to appreciate Anderson in the same way that I have. And I understand why. He’s not for everyone. I can see that. His first few movies could, conceivably, taken place in the real world but, as his career moved on, Anderson has slowly started to move further into his own realms. The kind of fantasy worlds that exist in and of themselves without need for further explanation. I’ve read someone describe them as being like video game universes and I think that’s a perfect description. You don’t need to know anymore about them than what you see and you’re always instantly engrossed. Yet even my oldest friends find his whimsical worlds to be a bit tedious after a while. Personally, I’d love to live in an Anderson world.
Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs has a very interesting and very Anderson concept: the population of dogs in Megasaki City, Japan, are all suffering from dog flu and are banished to a trash island. The twist comes from the fact that all of the dog characters speak English whilst the human characters mostly speak untranslated Japanese. There are a handful of moments when a voice-over, a translator, or a piece of technology allows the audience know what the Japanese people are saying but, for the most part, you have to get a sense of what they’re saying based on their tone. It is a surprisingly effective and fun way of making sure that the dogs are the key players and relegating the humans to their supporting role.
At its most basic, the story is something akin to Homeward Bound or something. After the outbreak of the various canine diseases, the dog-hating mayor Kobayashi sends all of the dogs to Trash Island. The first dog to be abandoned on the island is Spot, the bodyguard of the Mayor’s ward, Atari. Missing his best friend, the boy heads out on a journey to find him again. After crash-landing, he is discovered by a pack of “alpha” dogs who decide to help him search the land for his pet. Out of the 5 dog dogs (all voiced by Anderson alumni), 4 of these companions are house pets still unaccustomed to life beyond a plump cushion. The final dog is Chief (Bryan Cranston) who has been a stray for most of his life and is the only one to be wary of the new, human addition to their group.
Much like Fantastic Mr Fox, Isle of Dogs is a beautiful piece of animation. It has ben created to give a purposeful textured almost scratchy feel to the visuals and it really adds to the atmosphere. Every detail has been chosen to create the perfect frame which perfectly contrasts with the rougher animation. It all comes together to create a captivating and breathtaking landscape. The dogs themselves have been rendered perfectly and we see their fur rustle realistically. With the help of the animators, Anderson and co. have created a truly beautiful film. There is a scene that takes place inside a shelter made of old glass bottles and the multicoloured lighting is mesmerising.
Although, for all of this beauty this shouldn’t be mistaken for a Disney film. There is a lot of dark and kind of grotesque moments on-screen. Whilst most of the dog violence takes a fairly slapstick approach in the form of a classic dust cloud with protruding limbs, there is a definite sense of the ruthless world we have entered. Very early on, a dog has his ear bitten off and spit out onto the ground. People get hurt and killed. Dogs are experimented on. There is a particularly squirmy sushi scene and a scene depicting an organ transplant. The dogs may be able to talk but this certainly isn’t a fairy tale world.
But this is the joy of Isle of Dogs, there is so much room to interpret the plot beyond its “boy searches for his lost dog” basis. It can be read for its political leanings as a story of disenfranchisement. Those more concerned with animal rights will read the narrative in a different way entirely. It doesn’t really matter in the end, of course. What the film definitely proves itself to be is an utterly charming, beautiful, and captivating experience. It’s a slicker animated feature than Fantastic Mr Fox if it does, perhaps, lack a tiny amount of that film’s whimsical sense of fun. It manages to show us the negativity in the world whilst constantly reminding us that there is such a thing as love, loyalty, and trust. All I want to do is watch it again.