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Thread: ISLE OF DOGS (Wes Anderson 2018)

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    SF Bay Area

    ISLE OF DOGS (Wes Anderson 2018)


    Wes's second stop-motion outing is a curious amalgam of unexpected delights

    As noted by A.A. Dowd, Isle of Dogs takes first place away from Wes's previous twittering machine The Grand Budapest Hotel as a chamber of wonders. It's more impressively, brilliantly, concentratedly complex. It's also sweeter, without the dubious historical assumptions, and more focused.

    The story is charming and contains the old-fashioned satisfaction of good triumphing over evil. But Isle of Dogs is also, and notably, a technical and artistic marvel, and the wonderment of its images and sounds is as important as the tale it tells. Alexandre Desplat collaborated with a team of Taiko drummers to produce a thrilling wall of sound as strong as the vivid kinetic wonders for the eye. A common reviewers' refrain is that this is a movie to see at least twice (certainly true), and its riches are a little overwhelming at times. I could have used freeze-frame mode on my VCR, but I was at Regal Union Square in Theater 8 and the movie went on if I'd taken each frame in or not.

    This new film is a story set in a near-future Japan where man's best friend has been exiled by a malicious gangsterish local official to an island of garbage. Supposedly these canines are all infected with a disease of "dog flu." Really, the mean, crooked Mayor Kobayashi just doesn't like dogs.

    But first focus is on the dogs themselves. a small group of them who talk themselves out of despair. It seems the bark-language of motivation and of dogs is auto-translated into American. The dogs are, as dogs will be, team players, all except one that, unlike the others, is a stray, and stubbornly disobedient. (This will change.)

    A Little Pilot (the film is full of chapters and titles, in Japanese and English, of course) comes to the trash isle in a tiny plane that crashes. Should we think of Saint-Exupéry, the pilot, and his Little Prince? (Watch how wondrously he and his plane are later revived.) The Little Pilot, age twelve, is a tough and plucky sort who has come to find his lost dog, Spots. Turns out he's an orphan called Atari who became the ward of Kobayashi. Spots is a mystery and a case of mistaken identity, that will be solved, while the dogs will survive many other mishaps.

    Sometimes the action, in a classic animated film tradition, within its overriding larger narrative, is a series of action jokes and tricks like an old Looney Toons cartoon. There is a doggy romance that radically crosses canine social boundaries, with doggy blessèd events resulting. There is a triumph for The Little Pilot. And there are the closing credits, which are grand. You will make a big mistake if you leave before the last of them has unreeled.

    To return to the repeat-viewing theme, The Wall Street Journal's Joe Morgenstern has written that his only displeasure on first seeing Isle of Dogs was not immediately being able to see it again. This is a saturation of the senses that arouses the craving for more.. I found myself blinking and squinting. The screen is so full of things, and there is so much writing, writing all over the screen in Japanese and English. I liked that, even if it was frustrating, and thought it one of the principal things people mean when the say this film's look is unique.

    Despite the film's tendency to overwhelm its story with its wonderments, many things stick with you nonetheless, even with a single viewing. First the Japaneseness. Rarely has any American film so reveled in Japanese visual style, Japanese Taiko drums, Japanese colors and clothes, and the Japanese language. There are chunks of Japanese dialogue that sounds important but isn't translated; it's tossed off matter-of-factly. And there's a lot of Japanese writing, and signage, and cross-translating with gadgets turning Japanese into English and back the other way.

    The voices are excellent, including Japanese ones one may not know, like, as Atari, Koyu Ranki, a boy who grew up in Canada with one Japanese parent; Kunichi Nomura, in fact already a Wes regular, as Mayor Kobayashi; and American ones we know very well, a celebrity-rich roster including Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, and Jeff Goldblum as dogs, Scarlett Johansson as Nutmeg, the fluffy female show dog. Greta Gerwig and Frances McDormand are also heard from, as well as Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Liev Schreiber as Spots, Courtney B. Vance as the narrator; even Yoko Ono. Usual suspects Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman worked on the script with Wes, along with Kunichi Nomura (doubtless on the Japanese dialog).

    Not all is perfect. . . The dogs look a little too much alike. For some reason Wes has chosen to somewhat overlook how enormous are the variations in canine size and profile. Then again, there isn't enough focus on a guiding, grounding personality, like George Clooney's deviously charming Mr. Fox in Wes's previous stop-motion outing, or Bill Murray's iconic characters, like Steve Zissou in The Life Aquatic. And come to think of it, that final music, grand though it is, also bludgeons us. It is too overwhelming, and robs us of the opportunity to meditate on what has transpired on screen just before.

    For that Japaneseness that so much charmed and impressed me, it turns out, Wes has been under fire, accused of "cultural appropriation", of a kind of condescension in his use of Japanese culture. Fault has been found with the copious (but perhaps, some think, simplistic) Japanese dialogue without translation, while the dogs speak, in contrast, it is thought, in full American-English sentences. Indeed there may be a biased and arbitrary use of Japan, in some sense, in Isle of Dogs. If so, I suggest this is that old-fashioned thing, Orientalism. That is a past interest of mine. I liked it enough to write a doctoral dissertation about it. It takes a sui generis talent like Anderson to bring it back. In this age of Political Correctness it is inevitable that there will be those who will leap forward to rail against it. It is an art of amalgamation and play that may have been forgotten. It may be a fault in P.C. terms, but it is a source of beauty. Remember Chinoiserie?

    So some of Wes's faults are virtues. And overall, the impression is strongly positive. Comments like "amazing," "remarkable," or "wonderful" come out spontaneously after a first viewing. And unique. This amalgam of dogginess and Japaneseness, corruption and a plucky twelve-year-old Japanese boy in a uniform is quite unexpected, and now we know we needed it.

    Isle of Dogs, 101 mins., debuted at the Berlinale 15 Feb. 2018; also at Glasgow, Dublin, and SxSW. It opened in US theaters 23 Mar. 2018 (limited), wide US release - one of the most sophisticated and brilliant animated films since Disney's Fantasia ever to get wide release - 6 Apr. Metascore 81%.

    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 04-04-2018 at 12:46 AM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Nov 2002
    North Carolina
    I just saw this yesterday, Chris and haven't had time yet to read your review or write one. I'm at my writers' meeting when someone asked me about this.
    Colige suspectos semper habitos

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Utah, USA

    Cinemabon continues his awesomeness

    Cinemabon continues his great written commentary with this movie review that is easy to read and descriptively fun to read. As a third generation Japanese American, the whole politically correct issue didn't arise with me. I just enjoyed the movie for the all the reasons Cinemabon describes. Sure makes my job that much easier. Pointing fingers.


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