'Isle of Dogs' Review: More than just puppy love
With its cute-as-a-button visual appeal and humorous charm, it isn’t very hard to fall head-over-heels in love with Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson’s second stop-motion animated film after Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), and rabid celebration of everything from Japanese cinema to loyal canine companions.
Fable of its time
There is more to Isle of Dogs than just puppy love. It is first and foremost a fable of its time. That time is now, and is one where childlike innocence is no longer sacred to the hideous reach of vicious politics.
Of course, the film isn’t really set in the present.
It is set twenty years from now, mostly in the titular island with mountains made out of compacted trash cubes and whose natives are dogs banished from the mainland because of snout fever epidemic.
Megasaki, the fictional megalopolis that is now free of dogs thanks to the arbitrary ruling of its cat-loving mayor (Kunichi Nomura), is curiously democratic, populated with dissenters ranging from a rational scientist (Akira Ito) on the verge of discovering a cure to the canine disease to an exchange student (Greta Gerwig) who runs a student publication.
The film is set in a world that is not unlike ours — where democratic institutions have gone wrong and where unreasonable fear is propagated instead of freedom.
Of course, the dreariness is gorgeously draped in fantasy. Isle of Dogs is squarely placed within Anderson’s delectable universe, where even heaps of rotting waste look Instagram-ready thanks to symmetrical framing and thoughtful color coordination. A political assassination is rendered droll by the splendidly sequenced and meticulous methodology that leads to it.
The film revels in the marriage of its whimsical aesthetic and the timely discourse of its unsubtle and long-winded allegory.
Clash of cultures
Each beautiful frame of Isle of Dogs is an exercise of Anderson’s deliberate and obsessive control over his craft.
There is always a rhyme and a reason to the way wayward objects are carefully arranged, or the manner the seemingly capricious narrative unfolds through a delirious collection of frivolous banters, eccentric capers, and sentimental flashbacks. The film feels like it is disarray. It feels like it is reveling in some sort of lovely chaos. However, the film is in fact very calculated.
Its prudence is reflected in the way the animation is so reverently detailed, with each entangled plot of fur or unsightly bruise in glorious display even if such attention to minutiae requires more time and effort.
In that sense, the film’s decision to leave a lot of the dialogue in Japanese untranslated, while the barks of the canine characters in eloquent English seems to be coming from a place of logic and rhetoric than just cute and clever whim.
Isle of Dogs can either be seen as Anderson carelessly appropriating a culture outside his own to echo his sentiments and obsessions or as a statement on the discordant humanity of the present, of civilization that thrives amidst the lack or deficiency in understanding of every attempt at communication.
Anderson, based on the way he, is rarely careless and if ever this latest film of his proposes a clash of cultures, the rationale behind it is definitely more profound than cultural insensitivity.
Nevertheless, Isle of Dogs is just an absolute delight.
Even if it seems farfetched to you that an adorably-hued but bleak tale of a boy and a colony of ostracized dogs overpowering an authoritarian isn’t reflective of what is happening in real life, it is still immensely entertaining and irresistibly gorgeous. – Rappler.com
Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' Tirad Pass.
Since then, he's been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.