BEIRUT: Wes Anderson’s unique mark on the art and craft of filmmaking continues with his ninth feature film and his second stop-motion animation film, Isle of Dogs, a love letter to both Japan and man’s best friend, and an allegory to racism and forced displacement.
Isle of Dogs tells the story of Atari Kobayashi, 12-year-old ward to corrupt Mayor Kobayashi. When, by Executive Decree, all the canine pets of Megasaki City are exiled to a vast garbage-dump, Atari sets off alone in a miniature Junior-Turbo Prop and flies to Trash Island in search of his bodyguard-dog, Spots.
There, with the assistance of a pack of newly-found mongrel friends, he begins an epic journey that will decide the fate and future of the entire Prefecture.
The film is heavily influenced by the works of Akira Kurasawa, and it is as much an ode to Japanese cinema as it is an ode to childhood adventures and the connection one forms with their pets.
Anderson, at this point, has become a master of world building and creating unique and memorable characters; and this film is no different when it comes to the filmmaker’s style and vision.
What stands out most here, aside from the obvious mastery of puppet animation, is the film’s even more powerful cinematography.
Isle of Dogs is unusually cinematic, even for a Wes Anderson animated film, utilizing non-standard techniques as long tracking shots and variations on the pan-focus shots, where every character is in focus – shots that Kurosawa favored.
Every shot, frame, camera movement was precise and purposeful not just to Anderson’s symmetrical style, but more importantly, to the film’s overall narrative.
Isle of Dogs is kinetically charged and the tale pushes forward and never yields to take a breath, for even the silent moments in the film are packed with theme and character development.
Speaking of the characters, the whimsical and chatty canines make it difficult not to fall in love with them, and that’s all due to the fantastic actors gifting them their vibrant voices.
From Bryan Cranston to Tilda Swinton, each actor delivered a spot on vocal performance, bringing each of their characters to life.
Their performances would be nothing without the smart, sarcastic, and snappy dialogue written by Anderson.
To bring the film full circle, Oscar nominated music composer Alexandre Desplat pays as much homage to Japanese cinema as Anderson does visually.
The thumping heart of the score are the taiko drums, which have been played since the 6th Century C.E., and an emphatic component of Kabuki theatre, intermixed with saxophones and clarinets to create the unique soundscape of Trash Island and its surroundings.
The music becomes another layer of the film that, not unlike Trash Island, is mounded high with bits and pieces that, when combined, seem to alchemically forge a world that feels lived-in and alive.
The massive scale of this tiny sculpted puppet world is truly a wonder to witness.
The sets pay homage to more than just Japanese cinema and Kurasawa, they echo Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY with the very, very white lab; Bond films with the techie hacking and robotic dogs and weapons; and even some of Tarkovsky’s film STALKER, is echoed in the animal testing plant.
Isle of Dogs is something different; a world-building story that by its very nature breaks animation norms and brings together all the themes, shots, emotional intricacy and adventurousness of perhaps Anderson’s most ambitious filmmaking to date.
From the intricate puppets and micro-sets arises this living, breathing realm of cold-nosed questers whose plight is intimately relatable. The feel is of a whimsical legend but the grounding is in the real concerns, big and small, of modern life: friendship, family, humanity’s future and coming together to clean up our messes.
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