Title: Isle of Dogs
Country: USA, Germany
Language: English, Japanese
Genre: Animation, Adventure, Comedy
Director: Wes Anderson
Music: Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography: Tristan Oliver
F. Murray Abraham
Courtney B. Vance
Crowned with BEST DIRECTOR honor in Berlin, Wes Anderson’s second stop-motion animation is an American-German co-production, setting in a near-future Japan, where all our canine friends are exiled to Trash Island and facing impending extermination on the basis of an influenza virus which could cross-infect humans, only one little orphan boy is intent on searching for his dog when he is helped by a ragtag pack of deserted dogs.
Truthfully, it is a treacherous area for an occidental director to open-handedly handle with oriental culture, and vice versa (offhand in this reviewer’s mind comes Chen Kaige’s KILLING ME SOFTLY 2002. a brutal example of maladaptation), but marrying Anderson’s sui generis rectilinear cuteness and dry humor with the distinctive Japanese exotica, the temptation must be too high to refuse, and for one thing, ISLE OF DOGS never stints on saturating our perception with its manifold ocular (and aural) stimulants (Desplat’s dulcet tonic punctuated with throbbing offbeat drumbeats), right from its preface until the epilogue.
Another distinction which inherits from Anderson’s previous works is the crisp efficacy in its execution that effectually offsets the artifact’s innate twee-ness, every shot has its own purpose and function in the narratology, and Anderson never lingers, he might inundate viewers with info dump when he sees fit, but nothing is superfluous, which is quite a challenge for non-Japanese speakers, trying to get the whole picture at first viewing (idiosyncratically, all Japanese lines are not equipped with subtitles, as the proviso declares, and the Japanese translator, voiced by Frances McDormand, only apprises us the gist with much left in ellipsis), although the plot doesn’t deviate too much from its less innovative tale of righting the wrong of a conspiracy theory.
More problematic, is the character of an American exchange student Tracy Walker (voiced by Greta Gerwig with enough verve), who instigates the anti-authoritarian rectification all off her own bat, and becomes the spearhead of the movement, a none-too-subtle suggestion of western interference cannot evade a tart taste left behind, what adds injury to insult is her blatant crush on our hero 13-year-old Atari Kobayashi (Rankin), a white savior with a puppy love proclivity? It appears Anderson doesn’t flinch from touching some raw nerves.
The adventure of Atari and his pack of five, lead by a stray dog Chief (Cranston) is more vigorous and madcap, the mythos of master-and-samurai code of honor is tactfully deployed to the bonding between Atari and Chief, with the premise that the latter refuses to hobnob with humans and is prone to bite. So when Atari finally finds his dog Spots (Schreiber), the rite of loyalty transference just coasts to fruition, not to mention a fraternal discovery. But perceptibly, Anderson adopts a less heart-warming attitude in the bushido metaphor, to allow Atari coming off as peremptory and impassive most of the time, rendering an effect of master-and-servant observance that more aligns with adult perspective than kiddie-and-pet harmony, whereas every single shot is admirably fondling-tantalizing, ISLE OF DOGS is another Anderson’s specimen of philosophizing the worldly asperity under its superficial faux-näif luster and craftsmanship, and cat lovers should cautiously give it a wide berth.