Wes Anderson’s stop-motion animation Isle of Dogs envisions a dystopian Japan in which the canines of fictional Megasaki City have been banished to nearby Trash Island by hound-hating Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura). When said mayor’s young ward Atari (Koyu Rankin) attempts to rescue his exiled pet, he must rely on the help of a pack of mangy mutts to navigate the wasteland. It’s a visually intricate affair, albeit grungier than you might expect – diseased animals, rotting food and even a kidney transplant are rendered in surprisingly graphic fashion. And in terms of sound it’s cacophonous, with a propulsive, Taiko drum-heavy score, dogs voiced by Hollywood stars, and Japanese dialogue either filtered through an interpreter or left unsubtitled. Consequently, Anderson stands accused of othering his Asian characters, but I take the more generous view that his intent was to make his own outsider perspective explicit. Detractors have also been rattled by the fact that a rebellion against Kobayashi is led by Greta Gerwig’s American exchange student, a white saviour of sorts. But this heroic arc is undercut by the way in which the plot uncomfortably recalls the internment of Japanese Americans in the US during World War II. And underlying it all is a surprisingly moving meditation on self-determination, with alpha dog Chief (Bryan Cranston) grappling with his ‘wild’ nature. Certainly, there’s more going on than it might appear at first glance.
Isle of Dogs | Directed by Wes Anderson (US, Germany 2018) with Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin. Starts May 10.
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