The opening gala for the 2018 film festival was an inspired choice. Wes Anderson ticks so many of the boxes that the organisers of the festival are promoting. He is a big name talent with a very particular style that attracts both mainstream and art house audiences. His new film, Isle Of Dogs, has the added bonus of being a stop motion animation in the style of his previous non-live action film Fantastic Mr Fox. Of course, there are those who just don’t like his style. With the gala screenings of the festival opener selling out in short order, there appears to be a lot of people who love what he brings to the screen.
The film is set in a version of modern day Japan. There is an epidemic of sorts. The canine population has exploded to unmanageable proportions. A flu virus which is threatening to spread across the species to humans forces the government to act. They bring into law the expulsion of all dogs to The so called trash island. One boy, the ward of the prime minister cannot accept this. His only friend is his dog Spots. He steals a light aircraft and crash lands on the island. There he teams up with a pack of dogs and together they start a quest to find Spots. Of course the government cannot let this happen as the boy’s presence on the island has led to some uncomfortable questions about the original reason for banishing the dogs in the first place.
From the opening credits you know that you are in a Wes Anderson film. His style, shot composition and , character types are all present. It is what he has added to his usual mix that really makes the film stand out. In choosing the location for the film he has opened up a whole new world to explore. The film uses various themes we are familiar with from cinema, animation and many of the things we associate with Japanese culture. There are elements of Samurai and warrior stories as well as the major Japanese theme of the effect of honour and the loss of it. Visually there is a good mix of oriental styles including high tech, Sumo wrestling and kabuki theatre.
The main characters in the drama are, as you would guess, all dogs. There is a host of well known names lending their voice talents to the proceedings including Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Tilda Swinton and Jeff Goldblum, with Scarlett Johansson, Greta Gerwig and Bryan Cranston. The style of the animation is a version of stop motion which may look a little untidy at times but really gives the film a unique look. The technique lends itself very well to the development of the protagonists. Each dog has its own unique characteristics which is presented by the animation style and the voice work from the actors.
The film has a very strong sound design. From the prologue to the end credits drums are used to emphasise action and drive the story along. It is a bold and singular choice which pays off as it fits perfectly with the visuals and the themes. Also included in the use of sound is the way the dialogue is conveyed to the audience. Early on it is stated that translation is only available in scenes where someone is actually translating. This highlights the fact that the story tells itself using visuals far more than the spoken word. It doesn’t distract from the enjoyment of the film and actually enriches the experience and adds to the humour.