If, less than two weeks ago, you would have told me to go and see an animation film with talking dogs in it, I would have politely declined. I’m still trying to get over the abomination that is the new Peter Rabbit film, thank you very much. But then again, I like Wes Anderson, I like Japan, and I love stop motion films. With the Easter Bank holiday weekend turning into a rain-soaked disappointment, as usual, I figured I might as well get out of my comfort zone.
This turned out to be a great idea. Isle of Dogs won’t please everybody: if you don’t like animation, or are even more of a cat lover than I am, try a different film. But if you’re looking for something quirky, you could do worse than giving this a go.
The story is as simple as they come: in a dystopian future, the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki has a dog problem. Its mayor therefore decrees the instant deportation of all dogs to Trash Island. One of those dogs is Spots, the beloved pet of the mayor’s own foster child. The brave little boy is so upset by the disappearance of his best friend that he hijacks a plane to go and find him.
Even if the story was rubbish – which it isn’t, for who doesn’t like a good saga? – the film’s visual style alone would make it a worthwhile watch. As mentioned before, this is a stop-motion film, which I love. I would probably go and watch the film again if only to take in more of its intricate detail. From labs to garbage dumps, everything is rendered in a style that is simultaneously cartoony and hyperrealistic. It’s hard to describe. See for yourself.
Attention should also be drawn to the beautiful music and the excellent casting. I’ve been told that voice acting is even more difficult than regular acting, because using facial expressions and body language are out of the question, but the actors cast for Isle of Dogs all do an excellent job. There’s no hint of the hysterical squeaking and childish exaggeration that some actors adopt when performing in an animation film, and the result is a film that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike.
There’s been some controversy over the film’s setting in Japan, along with the usual accusations of cultural appropriation. I’m not Japanese, nor have I ever visited the country, but I do think it’s fair to say that the film definitely wasn’t intended as a realistic or prescriptive portrayal of contemporary Japanese society. I mean, it’s got talking dogs in it. It’s often so ridiculous – and I mean this as a compliment – that only viewers who have never seen or read any other description of Japan would interpret it as an attempt to adequately describe what Japan is all about.
I’d say it’s more like an ode, a declaration of love, an invitation to further explore the cultural staples the film briefly touches upon – such as sushi and kabuki theatre. And even if you’d rather stick to toad in the hole and football, there’s still a lot of fun to be had. I don’t even particularly like dogs, but even I was moved and entertained by the adventures of Chief and his gang, and will never look at their real-life peers in quite the same way again.