Initial Impression: Isle of Dogs (2018)


Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs is a return to stop-motion animation for the pristine American auteur. The form and style was a revelation for his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Fantastic Mr Fox. With its lightning cuts and the juxtaposition between the sincerely earnest and absurd aspects of life, made all the more potent because of the central character’s struggle between prescribed domesticity and inherent wild tendencies: The 2009 film recalled the freeing youthful quality that pervaded Anderson’s debut film- Bottle Rocket.

By comparison, Anderson’s latest endeavour is a bleak and sombre affair. Set amid the backdrop of a dystopic Japan, Isle of Dogs charts the adventures of a young boy who travels to Trash island to find his dog. The entire canine species has been outlawed and banished by the government due to an outbreak of a virus that mainly affects their species.

Isle of Dogs represents Anderson’s most ambitious film to date. His reliance on Japanese culture and style does wonder for his carefully constructed ascetic. For instance, he employs Akira Kurosawa’s penchant for visceral weather to astounding effect, via gloomy and overcast uses of grey for the skies of Trash island.

There are a numerous amount of myths told throughout the picture. Anderson manages to convey the incredibly intricate stories with Hokusai esque paintings that engulf the frame. Alexandre Desplat’s percussive score, which consists of drums and saxophones punctate their importance.

Isle of Dogs also has an impressive amount of kineticism with panning shots coming from the characters being on conveyor belts, balloons and aeroplanes. Anderson also uses split screen to great effect in the action sequences to economise the sheer amount of information being conveyed to the audience.

The film also has something interesting to say about nature versus nurture. Many of the dogs in the picture have been bred for a specific purpose and are challenged with embracing their natural wild side when they find themselves surviving on the island. This idea has particular thematic weight when applied to the central canine, Chief (Byran Cranston), who comes to embrace his role as a domestic pet as opposed to a stray, violent dog.

Despite these virtues, I found Isle of Dogs hollow and not as emotionally accessible as Anderson’s other films. In fact, watching the film was akin to witnessing an excellent painter in the midst of creating. I admire the craft, passion and technique that is at work, even if the result did not speak to me as much as I would have liked.

About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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