Berlinale: Isle of Dogs

Isle Of Dogs
Isle of Dogs
Directed by Wes Anderson
Starring Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Akira Ito, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Yoko Ono, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe, Mari Natsuki, Fisher Stevens, Nijiro Murakami, Liev Schreiber and Courtney B. Vance

by Marko Domazet

Wes Anderson’s latest film is another visual feast: Rich in detail, superbly executed and with enough flare to quite happily just look at the pictures and not bother too much with the story. But fortunately, for his 9th feature, Anderson offers up a stellar story too!

As the opening scenes unfold, we find out that by executive order, all canine pets of Megasaki City have been banned to an island; an island also shared with mountains of rubbish and a few abandoned buildings. The reason for this ban is disease the dogs carry (or could potentially carry) and the harmful effects the major Kobayashi thinks they will have on the human population… this is despite protests from scientists, journalist and other folk who seem to be governed by common sense. I think we are all seeing this story play out in real life, right? From the very beginning, Anderson makes it clear that this story is about the underdog (pun intended). The story is told from their perspective, and the humans and their thoughts are held at bay through very clever stylistic choices. For example, the canines all speak English, but the humans speak Japanese and are only understood in the scenes where there is an actual Japanese translator – Excellent move!

Anyway, we find ourselves on this island with a whole load of dogs. Some are strays, some are show dogs (of course, this is the one featured female dog in this film. Typical.), some are guard dogs, some are just house pets. One day everything gets turned upside down when a 12-year-old boy called Atari lands on the island in the search of his lost pet. He teams up with a pack of dogs and they set out on an adventure trying to find the missing animal, but also to reclaim their own destinies. This being a Wes Anderson film, each character has enough of a back story and quirks to be able to carry the film. However, one of the truly great things about this film is how considered the characters are and how when playing alongside each other, they all add wonderful nuances and carry the story forward. Isle of Dogs does suffer from having too many ‘names’ doing the narration and one finds oneself listening out for those famous voices when one ought to be focusing on the story. A big part of this problem, I think, is down to the fact that all of these people have prominent billing. For example, in this film Yoko Ono is billed as a member of the cast, but her character actually has one sentence. One. Sentence.

Excessive talent billing aside, Isle of Dogs is mostly filled with positives: Great performances, great animation, wonderful music and some genuine tear-jerking moments. Put together, all these seemingly superficial touches, create a story that has a surprising amount of depth. It’s worth seeing, even if it’s just to be reminded that despite some horrible things going on, there is such a thing as unconditional love.


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