Here is an animated film for adults, made by the brilliantly stylish film director Wes Anderson, whose last film The Grand Budapest Hotel we showed in 2014. He had strayed this way before, making the puppet animation Fantastic Mr Fox in 2009. This film won Best Director for Wes Anderson and a nomination for Best Film at the Berlin Film Festival.
What makes this film superior to Fantastic Mr Fox, and arguably all of his live action work, is the amount of love you get from Anderson in Isle of Dogs. More of a collection of love letters than a single one, the film oozes warmth for so many things, leaving you grinning like a soppy pup all the way though and sending you on your way all fuzzy and beaming. Anderson’s love of Japanese culture, historical and popular, is evident in every frame. His delight in the characters and performances shines through so much that you care deeply for this bunch of scabby mutts. Clearly he adores the process and experience of stop-motion – there are tiny moments that will make your grin wrap half way around your face, and it takes more than one viewing to get them all. But most of all, for anyone who has ever loved a dog, that devoted relationship comes across so strongly that this film would bring a tear to a glass eye. You’d have to be pretty mean spirited not to be moved.
It’s a delight, albeit one that is red in tooth and claw. It opens with a Japanese folk tale about dogs and their people (and also, cats and their people). And midway through, there’s a display of Kabuki theater that almost begins to approach Anderson’s own level of stylized staging here. In pushing as far East as he can go, he may have reached a kind of aesthetic eminence. His control of the frame is absolute and it shows, often to spectacular effect, and sometimes to the point where the narrative fades into the background. But it doesn’t matter overmuch, because he’s got his dogs to keep us warm: Chief, Rex, King, Boss, Duke & Co., exiled along with the rest of Megasaki’s canine population to Trash Island by a dog-hating mayor. (If you’ve ever thought Anderson’s characters didn’t talk quite like real people, rejoice: they don’t talk like real people here, either, and it’s wonderfully effective, because they’re dogs.) The pack is sick, starving, and on the verge of collapse until a boy (voiced by Koyu Rankin) shows up looking for his lost pooch, Spots, and the dogs find purpose. His quest inspires a group of dog lovers to expose a government conspiracy. The voice cast also includes Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Bob Balaban, Greta Gerwig, and Yoko Ono. Isle of Dogs would make most dog-lovers cry. But they’ll be glad they saw it.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall