Saturday, 12 May 2018

Isle of Dogs provides a cracking return to the cinema

Sixteen years I stayed away from the cinema – now, a few weeks feels extreme. 

There are so many new releases coming up in the coming weeks that the want-to-see list is taking on a level that will extend movie going beyond the twice a month that characterised the first part of the year.

But a combination of a short trip away, a family death and then major surgery has left me facing catch up, so to start that process, The Other Half and I opted to see Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs before anything else.

Set in a dystopian near-future Japan, it tells the story of a corrupt mayor who whips up fear and hatred of dogs to help retain power. The canine-hating official then manages to have all dogs banished to the nearby Trash Island – beginning with Spots, the dog who guards his 12-year-old ward, Atari.

But Atari refuses to accept this lying down, and flies out to the island to find his beloved dog. Helped in his quest by a group of five dogs, led by Chief, a stray who is determined never to yield to a human ‘master’.

An attempt to ‘rescue’ the child goes awry – and with an election nearing, Mayor Kobayashi sees an opportunity to kill off all the dogs for once and for all.

It’s as quirky and offbeat as you would expect of Anderson. The stop-mo animation style works wonderfully: visually, it’s a superb look, with countless moments that you see again.

The plot is coherent, but it’s also a deluge of ideas: there are themes and nods here about the environment, about animal experimentation, about politicians whipping up hatred – and such hatred leading to death camps. It’s ‘about’ our relationship with the non-human animals in our lives, but also therefore about what it means to be human.

There’s another excellent score from this year’s Oscar winner, Alexandre Desplat, and a voice cast of stars that says everything about Anderson’s reputation and concomitant pulling power these days.

Okay, it would have been nice not to have had to have a non-Japanese character as provide the human rallying call late on, but in general, the film has a feeling of homage to Japanese culture. Indeed, this is very much supported by the way that culture is featured throughout, from the creation of sushi to the drumming and the Kabuki theatre, all of which create a sense of authenticity and respect.

The script is dry as a bone – in places very funny.

It’s difficult to think of anything that you could compare it to, so I won’t bother. So suffice it to say that it’s just a total delight.

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