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Cheering For The Underdog: A Review Of "Isle Of Dogs"

Ever since The Royal Tenenbaums, Wes Anderson has been one of my favorite film directors. His highly stylized cinematography, his trademark deadpan humor, his world of eccentrics, underdogs, and idiosyncratic characters—they’ve all appealed to my wry, somewhat cynical world view. His Grand Budapest Hotel ranks with Moonrise Kingdom and Tenenbaums as my Go Wes Top 3—but his latest, a retro stop-animation feature, Isle of Dogs, may soon nudge itself into that special category. It showed in Berlin earlier this year, and copped him a Silver Bear Best Director prize.


Wes Anderson with his Isle of Dogs cast

It’ll be shown in selected Ayala Cinemas starting May 30th, and rush to catch it, as blink, and it’s liable to be gone. More than an acquired taste, Wes Anderson films carry with it the sheer joy of film-making. Some may say they’re too effete, delicate, and whimsical, or lack social realism; but that’s like saying hothouse flowers aren’t real or hardy enough. They just march to a different tune, and it’s his personal ‘world’ Wes invites you to indulge in, and enjoy with him, if we’re inclined to do so.


Set in a near future Japan, Isle of Dogs opens with the back story of why the Kobayashi family of Megasaki hates dogs. Brought up to speed, we then meet Mayor Kobayashi addressing the incidence of ‘dog flu’; by banishing the entire canine population to Trash Island. First to go will be his own dog, Spots. This exile of mutts forces Atari Kobayashi, orphan nephew and ward of the Mayor, to hijack a plane and crash land on Trash Island. This is because after the tragic accident that took his parents, Atari convalesced with Spots by his side. 



#IsleofDogs A new film from Wes Anderson In theaters this spring

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In typical Anderson fashion, all the dogs on Trash speak English, while the Japanese characters speak in their language and without subtitles! And what transpires is an inspired story about the marginalised and oppressed, about the downtrodden uniting in strength, and about family and identity. Corruption in government, the will of the people being subverted, they’re all part of the mix Anderson addresses in the film. 


The tedious process of stop-animation

Anderson first flirted with stop animation with Fantastic Mr. Fox, a Ronald Dahl source material. It’s great to see him spread his wings from the rural English countryside of Fox and indulge in his fascination with things Japanese. The old familiars of Wes’ films are accounted for, lending their voices, and they’re now joined by Japanese actors. Bryan Cranston, Tilda Swinton, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Ken Watanabe, Greta Gerwig, Jeff Goldblum, Yoko Ono—these are just some of the illustrious names attached to the film. 


Wes Anderson with some of the actors who lent their voices to "Isle of Dogs"

If you’re a lover of cinema, you’ll rush to watch this Underdog of a film. It’s brilliant storytelling, and exuberant film-making.