Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Movie with Abe: Isle of Dogs

Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

Isle of Dogs
Directed by Wes Anderson
Released March 23, 2018

There are filmmakers who leave a distinct imprint on each of the movies they make, to the point that they can be almost instantly recognized as having been created by them. Wes Anderson is one such writer-director, who has made nine films in the span of twenty-two years, each focusing on characters who speak with a pointed intelligence and move through the world to a particular rhythm. Most of his films have been live-action, but his own previous foray into animation, “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” was a tremendous success. His latest film may well be his most imaginative yet.

In Japan, a dog flu poses a threat to the human population, inspiring its mayor, Kenji Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), to expel all dogs to the nearby Trash Island even as one dissenting scientist, Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) claims he can develop a cure. The mayor’s ward and nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin), steals a plane and flies to Trash Island to try to find his dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber), and is greeted by a crew of determined dogs including Rex (Edward Norton) and former stray Chief (Bryan Cranston) who search for Spots before the mayor’s henchmen find them. Back in Japan, American exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) leads the resistance movement in defense of the dogs she believes have been unjustly banished.

All of Anderson’s movies assume realities that are shaped by their characters and move with them, and this is no exception. It begins with an educational summary of the imagined history that predates its events, explaining the role of dogs in Japanese culture. An interpreter (Frances McDormand) translates all of what is uttered in Japanese by those within the government and news establishment, while the dogs speak in nothing but English, as does Tracy. Their ability to function and communicate, not to mention the fact that dogs are able to speak and be understood by humans, is accepted as normal in this reality. It’s presented not as an impediment but rather just the way things work in this product of Anderson’s brain.

There are so many familiar talents Anderson has collaborated with before present in this film, with a number of his regular actors voicing dogs and humans, and composer Alexandre Desplat providing a dependably buoyant and metered score. Like so many of his previous films, this manages to work despite its inherent strangeness, embracing odd ideas and using them to guide its inventive and particular plot. The notion of an “isle of dogs” is decidedly peculiar, but that is an asset for this very weird and worthwhile film that marks the latest work of art from Anderson.


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