Kyle J. Steenblik

Isle of Dogs is Endearing, Thoughtful and Fantastic [Review]

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Isle of Dogs
Directed by: Wes Anderson
Screenplay by: Wes Anderson
Story by: Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, Kunichi Nomura
Starring: Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Kunichi Nomura, Ken Watanabe, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Fisher Stevens, Nijiro Murakami, Harvey Keitel, Koyu Rankin, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Akira Ito, Akira Takayama, F. Murray Abraham, Yojiro Noda, Mari Natsuki, Yoko Ono, Frank Wood, Courtney B. Vance
Production company: Indian Paintbrush, American Empirical Pictures
Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures
Release date March 23, 2018
Running time 101 minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some violent images
5 stars out of 5
The Japanese Archipelago, twenty years in the future. Canine-Saturation has reached epidemic proportions. An outbreak of Snout-Fever rips through the city of Megasaki. Dog-Flu threatens to cross the species threshold and enter the human disease pool. Mayor Kobayashi of Uni Prefecture calls for a hasty quarantine: the expulsion and containment of all breeds, both stray and domesticated. By official decree, Trash Island becomes an exile colony. The Isle of Dogs. Six months later, a tiny, single-engine, miniature airplane crash-lands onto the teeming waste-land. A pack of five starving but fierce abandoned dogs scrambles to the wreckage and discovers a twelve-year-old pilot staggering from the burning fuselage. Atari, orphan-ward to Mayor Kobayashi. With the assistance of his new canine friends, Atari begins a search for his lost dog, Spots — and, in the process, exposes a conspiracy that threatens to destroy all the dogs of Megasaki City forever.

Did you hear the rumor about Isle of Dogs?  They say it is a ridiculously delightful film that is as endearing and heartwarming as it is hilarious and thought-provoking.  Of all the Wes Anderson films I have seen—which is all of them—Isle of Dogs is my favorite, and possibly the most unique.  The high degree of care Anderson takes with each frame to construct a highly polished finished product that does not appear to be overly finished is nothing short of inspiring.  Like a craftsman that takes care to allow the seams to show just to show-off how impeccably well-constructed his piece of art is.   Even though I could clearly see how he did it, I am still mystified, and that is precisely what a terrific film should do.

There is another element of this film that I found deeply satisfying.  The fact that virtually none of the Japanese dialogue is subtitled.  The audience must rely upon other characters translating to the audience or by inferring the meaning by the reactions and responses from other characters.  This also puts the audience in the same position as the dogs when they interact with Atari, the dogs do not speak Japanese, or at least not very much or very well.  The fascinating result, for me, is that I found myself identifying more with the canine characters than with the human boy.  Not that I could not or did not identify with him on some level, but it was not as effortless.

Finally, the sometimes-dark dry comedy left me, and much of the audience, in stitches.  I do not feel much more needs to be said on that topic, as it is a defining trait of Anderson’s films.  Isle of Dogs was inspiring and uplifting, and further confirms my belief that all it takes for the world to be all right, is a good dog.

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