Movie Review: “Isle of Dogs” is Bewitchingly Quirky
Updated: Aug 6, 2018
Language: English & Japanese
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Kunichi Nomura, Ken Watanabe, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Fisher Stevens, Nijiro Murakami, Harvey Keitel, Koyu Rankin, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Akira Ito, Akira Takayama, F. Murray Abraham, Yojiro Noda, Mari Natsuki, Yoko Ono, Frank Wood
Despite not having seen the film before the press screening, I have heard buzzes of praise for “Isle of Dogs” weeks before the event.
“Oh, I heard it’s a good film,” my brother said. And so did my father and a handful of my friends. So that, coupled with a mildly interesting observation I made that there are many Japanese names mixed in with the American ones on the list of Credits, was what made up my initial impression of the film.
Yet despite my observation and what I had been told beforehand, they barely prepared me for what awaited me in “Isle of Dogs”.
What is it about?
“Isle of Dogs” is set in dystopian Japan, where dog-hating, cat-loving Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) of Megasaki City banishes dogs to Trash Island when they develop dog flu. This, even though a scientist named Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) insists that he will soon be able to develop a cure.
But fueled by his hatred for dogs, Mayor Kobayashi carries on with his plan. And as a symbolic gesture, the first dog to be banished to Trash Island is Spots, the dog of his ward and distant nephew, Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin).
Unbeknownst to him, it is precisely this that sets the events in “Isle of Dogs” in motion. Stricken by the loss of his dog, 12-year-old Atari sets off on a one-boy rescue mission. He hijacks a plane and crash lands on Trash Island—where he soon meets a group of five dogs led by Chief (Bryan Cranston). After spending months without purpose on the island, aside from just trying to survive every day, and inspired by his love for his pet, the dogs decide to help Atari.
Is it worth a watch?
One of the first things that leap out at you when you watch “Isle of Dogs” is its incredibly distinctive style. There is something hauntingly beautiful about this scrappy, exceedingly detailed stop-motion style animation. From the art style itself to its scraggly movements, there lies an unassuming, quiet sophistication beneath the surface. Perhaps it’s the unique aesthetic, perhaps the way you can still see every strand of fur even if you were to take a random screenshot-- or perhaps, it’s the amount of emotion you can at times see reflected in the dogs’ eyes.
Perhaps it’s anything and everything that makes up the film.
The second thing that would grab your attention is the way the film is conducted in both English and Japanese, with the English dialogue being held almost exclusively by the dogs and the Japanese by the majority of the human characters. Yet despite the obvious language barrier that “Isle of Dogs” brings with it, it only provides translations from the narrator for some of the Japanese dialogue. Fret not, though. The film is still understandable enough through the hand gestures and facial expressions of the human characters.
The third detail that you would take note of is its dry, deadpan sense of humour. “Isle of Dogs” manages to wrangle laughs out of its audience despite its melancholic quality. Which is interesting to note, because the film itself carries a lot of heavy topics in its holster. Political drama, the grim ugliness of humanity, the raw pain of survival- just a few among the many ingredients that are painstakingly packaged in this film.
These aren’t topics you’d typically expect from an animated film, and yet, these are what director Wes Anderson chose to deliver, albeit he does balance it with ample heart as well. There is warmth in “Isle of Dogs”; definite love and hope that will cushion the darkness that shrouds it.
Is “Isle of Dogs” worth a watch? My answer is yes, yes and yes. Is it meant for children? Maybe. For older children, certainly. Too young, and it’s questionable, especially when there is a Mike Tyson-esque scene embedded in the film.
“Isle of Dogs” will be hitting cinemas this May 31st
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Written by Crunch's Melissa Kartini