Thursday, April 26, 2018

Isle of Dogs (2018)

No Future on Trash Island
"Sheesh, Igor, I Think He Chewed Your Ear Off"

The Japanese city of Megasaki is in crisis. It is determined that the city is suffering from the effects of "canine saturation" and a resulting public health crisis from a dog-flu epidemic called "Snout Fever." To ward off the risk, Megasaki's mayor, Kobayashi (voiced by Konichi Nomura—it's animated, they're all "voiced")—hiding the centuries-long grudge his family has held against dogs—institutes a plan to banish all bowsers from the city to a small archipelago called "Trash Island." To show the populace his own good will and that he, himself, will suffer from the decision, the first dog to be sent into exile is "Spots" (Liev Schreiber—yes, the dogs talk, in English), the service animal of Kobayashi's orphaned nephew Atari (Koyu Rankin, who speaks in Japanese). "Spots" is left alone and abandoned on Trash Island, but he will not be alone for long.

Soon, every dog from Megasaki is on Trash Island and it's a dog-eat-dog existence. Well, actually, no...dogs haven't resorted to cannibalism, but there is a rumor that one group did...well, let's not get into this. 99% of the population does not resort to cannibalism, as Megasaki provides a steady steam of trash for the various packs to fight over. It is not a good life on Trash Island, but at least it is somewhat sustainable.

"Is this worth fighting over?" "Yes, it is"
Isle of Dogs concentrates on one particular loose-knit pack: King (voiced by Bob Balaban); Duke (voiced by Jeff Goldblum); Boss (voiced by Bill Murray), and Rex (voiced by Edward Norton); into their midst comes an outlier named Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston), who is far more independent than the others, probably because of their backgrounds and history, and despite his more decisive demeanor, there is a certain reluctance to take his advice on anything...despite the other four's inability to plot a course of action.  Even in a dog-pack, there can be inherent prejudice.
King, Duke, Boss, and Rex....and...Chief.
Their differences can best be explained in these lines of dialogue making the demarcation known.

Rex: I used to sleep on a lamb's wool beanbag next to an electric space heater. That's my territory, I'm an "indoor" dog.
King: I starred in twenty-two consecutive Doggy Chow commercials. Look at me now, I couldn't land an audition.
Boss: I was the lead mascot for an undefeated high school baseball team. I lost all my spirit, I'm depressing.
Duke: I only ask for what I've always had, a balanced diet, regular grooming, and a general physical once a year.
Chief: You're talking like a bunch of housebroken... pets.
Rex: You don't understand. Uh, how could you, I mean you're a...
Chief: Go ahead say it. I'm a stray, yeah.
Yeah. He's a stray. Go ahead. Make something of it.
Things change for the pack with the arrival of a mini-airplane  that has a slight accident and crashes onto a Trash Island beach. The pilot is none other than Kobayashi's nephew, Atari, who has come in search of his lost dog, Spots. The pack (who do not speak Japanese—they speak English standing in for canine) bands together to find Atari's lost guard=dog and begin an odyssey of sorts on Trash Island to find the boy's ditched dog. The trek allows Atari to bond with Chief—they are, after all, both unattached strays—a relationship that benefits both parties.  
Isle of Dogs is the product of director-co-writer Wes Anderson, who basically did a full story-board breakdown for stop-motion animators to emulate—as he did in Fantastic Mr. Fox—has stated that the film is influenced by the films of Kurosawa and the Rankin/Bass television specials of the 1960's. Sure, it's very possible. But, an awful lot of Anderson's work can be seen to be based on the stop-motion animation work he saw as a kid. But, it's also unmistakably Anderson's style, with images that have a strict one-point perspective, a rather strict symmetry and camera movements leaning on the lateral (with the occasional direct zoom that makes sure not to move the center-point). Watching one of Anderson's stop-motion movies is like watching Stanley Kubrick make a "Lego" movie.
In between Fox and this film, Anderson made the live action The Grand Budapest Hotel, which pushed the feel of the film into an animated feel, even employing a similar stop-motion feel to the Hotel's vertiginous tram. He continues the strict one-point perspective that he has been increasingly been using throughout his career. You can also see a major up-tick in the design of the film, far above that displayed in Fox, creating vast spaces that extend to the horizon. You also see him employing a mixed-media approach, combining the live-action with animation (particularly in television transmissions that are featured).

It's a great leap in form for Anderson, who creates a fun little adventure story with an increased sophistication that's quite fun to see.

The "Fearful Symmetry" of Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs

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