Dir; Wes Anderson. Starring; Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray. PG-13. Color/Animated. 101 Min
Wes Anderson has done it again. The cult filmmaker who is best known for The Royal Tenenbaums, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and Fantastic Mr. Fox delivers his latest work, Isle of Dogs and just as with the fore mentioned pictures, Anderson doesn’t disappoint. The film, set in a near future Japan, tells the story of an oppressive politician named Mayor Kobayashi who enacts an executive order forcing all dogs to be exiled to an offshore “trash island” where they will remain in quarantine for the rest of their lives. His adopted nephew Atari, hijacks a small airplane and crashes it on trash island where he teams up with a pack of exiled dogs who help him on his quest to find his beloved canine friend Spots.
As is usual with Wes Anderson films, Isle of Dogs is loaded with brilliantly funny anecdotes, incredibly precise camera work, and hyper-realistic settings that provide the framework for characters with very emotional and flawed personalities. Although it is a great choice for taking the kids to see, the film has complex emotional and political undertones. At it’s heart, the film is about a boy’s unconditional love for his dog in a society where political agendas pushed by corrupt politicians have brainwashed the population into unjustified hatred of their once beloved furry companions. The message is perfectly summed up in Atari’s haiku delivered at the film’s climax:
to man’s best friend?
Falling spring blossoms
I am never one for getting into political debates, however I must point out the obvious metaphor present in Isle of Dogs. Mayor Kobayashi seeks to ban all dogs from the country for seemingly unjustified beliefs based solely on his family’s hatred for the species. He uses media to create a mass consensus of hatred and oppression of a species that poses no threat to the population. I am reminded of President Trump seeking to deport all illegal immigrants from the United States under comparable circumstances . Did Anderson intend this parable or am I reading into it too deep?
Some have criticized Anderson for his portrayal of the Japanese culture which has been interpreted as negative and stereotypical. If he had intended to make fun of Japanese culture, this would make using allegory in your film to preach cultural tolerance somewhat comical. Although Byrd and I found ourselves laughing at the portrayal of Japanese citizens, we both agreed that the comedy was done without malice. I find it hard to imagine that Anderson, who has made films in Europe and India, would ever dabble in cultural bigotry. He allegedly took much inspiration for the film from Japan’s greatest filmmaker Akira Kurosawa. I see it as a celebration of an historic culture who has had incredibly important contributions to the world of cinema.
Perhaps Isle of dogs (sounds like “I love dogs” when spoken) is Wes Anderson’s apology for years of negative treatment of canines in his previous works. The Royal Tenenbaums has a doggy death scene played for comedy; The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou features a three legged dog named Cody who is hit on the nose and left stranded on an island; Fantastic Mr. Fox portrays a farm owner’s guard dogs as rabid antagonists; and Moonrise Kingdom features a scene with an innocent beagle being shot through the neck with an arrow. Finally, Anderson gives credit and admiration to man’s best friend.
Isle of Dogs is a wonderful film which showcases Wes Anderson at top form. It is easily the best film of 2018 thus far and should be a heavy contender come awards season in the animated film category. Move over Pixar, one of America’s great film auteurs has come out swinging; barking and scratching of course.
Written by Maier
Suck Factor: 0 out of 7 (7 means your movie really sucks)
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