He’s done it again, the Master of the Strange,Purveyor of the Weird, Distiller of the Beautiful. Wes Anderson, director of such sweetly melancholic films as The Royal Tenenbaums (2001), The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014), has returned with a canine gem, The Isle of Dogs. The philosophy major has the unique distinction of creating “sad comedies”, miniature worlds where unlikely heroes emerge out of existential conflicts. In his latest film, the conflict revolves around the trampled canine species in a fictional Japanese megacity not too far in the future. Here are five reasons why Isle of Dogs is a must-watch.
It’s their film and they quite simply steal the bone. From curly-haired show dogs to street-hardened strays, the film is a dog-lover’s dream. Every bark and whimper, soppy look and scary growl has been rendered with painstaking precision. The film chronicles the fortunes of the dogs of Megasaki, whose mayor has banished them to a rubbish dump far away from the swank city. They’re accused of being disease-carrying pests, a threat to the health and safety of their human masters. The abandoned doggie characters all have distinct personalities and character arcs, with voices from such stars as Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson and Greta Gerwig. Each of the dogs, whether she comes from a posh home or much-maligned tribe, is heart-achingly human. And if the sighs and laughs from the lady in the seat next to mine at the theatre were anything to go by, the rundown pooches are a runaway hit.
Japan is any artist’s dream, and Anderson uses the aesthetics and nuances of the land and its culture to exquisite effect. And so we have a Little Prince flying his plane, like in the Antoine St. Exupery classic. Atari, like other humans in the film, speaks un-subtitled Japanese. But we never really need words to understand he’s shattered by the loss of his dog Spots. There’s a wonderful sushi making sequence, a cameo from Yoko Ono, the use of wasabi gas as a weapon of terror and mock haikus. For all the fun and parody, the dominant tone is elegiac and celebratory. Only the demons have been demonised, while the dogs and their champions display grit and character. Understand-o?
The Art and Animation
Stop-motion was never so fluid, so layered, so exquisite. Anderson had used the same technique in Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), but here the animation director Mark Waring comes close to perfecting it. A wisp of breeze on the coat of a dog is captured with documentary precision. Elsewhere, a swimming sequence is presented with self-conscious artifice. A rubbish heap is populated with uniquely Japanese detritus, whether it is food waste or tech castaways. Everything in the frame adds depth, a richness to proceedings. There’s so much going on in every skillfully crafted frame, one viewing is not nearly enough.
Alexander Desplat, Anderson’s frequent collaborator, takes on music duties for this wistful adventure film. Of the lot, I Won’t Hurt You – a single from psychedelic group The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band – has been used to superb effect, infusing a comforting, nostalgic quality to a dystopian setting. You also hear bits of song from the films Seven Samurai (1954) and Drunken Angel (1948). Overall, the songs and the background score complement the storybook quality of the film. A quirky, melancholic world in which there is always room for flickers of hope and small acts of love and courage.
You can’t miss it. The film works as a political allegory for the Brexit era, where the disenfranchised are always in danger of being dehumanised. In the Megasaki mayor’s character, you have the quintessential modern despot, who couches his greed and bigotry in pseudo-science and demagoguery. The citizens of the town where the dog fatwa has been issued reflect the scared masses who submit to authority unquestioningly. And then there’s the loyal opposition. A small band of rebels made up of liberals, from reporters to techies, who are the voice of dissent. The 12-year-old orphan, Atari, hard done by his mayor uncle, becomes the vehicle for revolt – all for the love of a dog. Viva la Revolution. And Praise be to Dog.
From HT Brunch, September 23 , 2018
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