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Renowned for his quirkiness and unique vision for film, Wes Anderson strikes again. This time, his sights are set on companionship, community and man’s best friend: the underdog, writes Anna Romanska.
Set in Japan, Isle of Dogs follows a young boy’s odyssey in search of his lost dog, after an outbreak of dog flu has forced Mayor Kobayashi of Megasaki, Japan, to send all the household pets away to Trash Island.
Atari, voiced by Koyu Rankin, crash-lands onto the eponymous Isle of Dogs in search of Spots, voiced by Liev Schreiber, and is discovered and taken in by a pack of sympathetic canines.
The only one doubtful of his good intentions is Chief, voiced by Bryan Cranston, a stray jaded by a life of discrimination and hardship at the hands of human masters.
As a fan of Anderson’s previous work, especially Moonrise Kingdom and The Grand Budapest Hotel, it’s a relief to say he loses none of his trademark humour and specificity in this feature. This is his second foray into stop-motion animation, after the success of Fantastic Mr. Fox.
From the minute details to the bigger picture, there’s not an opportunity left unexploited to tell this story. It can be difficult to make stop-motion animation, particularly using clay and plastic as a medium, look fluid and dynamic, but it also allows the creator to render the smallest of nuances profound.
Anderson seems to be a perfectionist here, and it definitely comes across. The influences from Japanese culture are omnipresent, from strong and decisive camera work to the vivid colour palette brushed across each shot.
With such a distinctive style to the director’s name, it would be easy to see the story as secondary to the visual appeal, but in Isle of Dogs you get both in equally delightful measure.
It’s moving, it’s harsh, and it’s sentimental, with a peppering of deadpan comedy flavouring every scene.
Cranston and Rankin are wonderful together, and though you only hear their voices, they lend powerful body to their clay counterparts. Though they get off to a ‘ruff’ start, they develop a language of understanding.
Rankin is youthful yet strong, and Cranston’s razor-sharp disdain is underpinned by that age old canine instinct for companionship, and how hard he tries to resist it.
The rest of the ensemble voice cast is equally impressive, with contributions from Frances McDormand (voicing Interpreter Nelson), Scarlett Johansson (voicing Nutmeg), and Harvey Keitel (voicing Gondo). It’s a rich tapestry of the familiar, like a chorus of classic ‘indie’ cinema favourites guiding you on your adventure.
What’s so wonderful about this movie is how sharp and neat it is. Going back to Anderson’s perfectionism, there’s no such thing as a wasted shot, or an indulgent line of dialogue.
He doesn’t present you with an ice-cream sundae to be greedily devoured, only to leave you suffering with a sugar rush headache.
This three-course dinner is a labour of love, asking you to stop and appreciate every individual sprig of thyme and pinch of salt. It’s so good you’ll be asking for seconds.
It’s encouraging to see a renaissance of artists obsessed with bringing their unique view of the world to life. This is an odd story, based in a quirky world, where everyone seems to know exactly where they fit in.
That inimitable magic comes in realising your power as an underdog, and the value of showing compassion in a divided community.
Cineco, Seef II, Dana Cinemas, Wadi Al Sail, Mukta A2, Al Jazeera