Isle of Dogs

I want to live in Wes Anderson’s world. My world is grey and cold and it rains, and it’s dirty and grubby and many of the people aren’t very nice. There are things in my world that shouldn’t be there; it’s confusing and scary and there is darkness and sadness and a lack of order – there is no intelligent design in my world, despite what the creationists would have you believe. Wes Anderson’s world is controlled and ordered, there is nothing missing or nothing unnecessary added; what is there needs to be there. There is a sharpness to his world, it is clean and defined, not always explicit but it is a world you can drink in, a world you could live in, a world you want to be part of. Anderson has the clearest, most consistent vision of any film maker working today; you know a Wes Anderson film as soon as the first moments appear and then you are lost, sucked in, swallowed up by his unique ideas, absorbed by his supremely imaginative mind. Isle of Dogs is his latest and it is a truly wonderful film. All of his signature tropes are here. It is shot in stop motion (like Fantastic Mr Fox) which gives it a slight jerky quality but also hyper-realism – Toy Story and Monsters Inc. and the other Pixar films are beautifully made but you know that fundamentally it’s a cartoon and done primarily by a computer. Stop motion is done by a human being and it shows. I find the plasticene of Wallace and Grommit becomes a little wearing after a while, there is a tweeness to those films, a Britishness which can get tiring, but Isle of Dogs is timeless, set in Japan but really it’s Wes Anderson country and they do things differently there. There is a story – a fear of diseased dogs in the city of Megasaki leads to them being exiled to Trash Island, there to eke out their lonely existence without their masters, until a little boy – Atari – comes looking for his lost dog, Spots. The moral is simple and the ending uplifting but the story is secondary – this film is about visuals, about sounds, about a created world, about friendship and love, the triumph of good over evil, it’s about everything in every frame of the film being perfect and ordered and true and clean and just where it should be. Watch the stop motion fur ruffle in the stop motion breeze, listen to Scarlett Johannsen’s brief, breathy, sultry, achingly sexy vocals as Nutmeg, the former show-dog and burgeoning love interest for Chief, voiced by the wonderful Bryan Cranston; marvel at the Heath Robinsonesq machinery, the clumsy dog robots, the piles of gloriously rendered garbage, the furious Kodo drummers over the opening and end credits, the Kabuki dancing, the nod to The Usual Suspects in Kobayashi, the chief baddie. You can play ‘spot the vocal talents’ if you want – Edward Norton, Jeff Goldblum, Harvey Keitel, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Yoko Ono, long-time Anderson collaborator Bill Murray – but this film isn’t about them and their talents, it’s about Anderson and his talent. Being set in Japan, all of the Japanese characters speak Japanese and there are no subtitles. But this just adds to the surreal other-worldly vision – you need to use your imagination to work out what they might be saying and this draws you ever-deeper into this strange but perfect world. I cannot think of a single criticism about this film, other than that when it is over you fall back into your own imperfect world and lose this masterful vision and a chance to share, albeit briefly, in Anderson’s perfect universe.

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