“Isle Of Dogs” Is Another Personal Best For Anderson

By Scott Kurland

Film: Isle Of Dogs

Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, and Scarlett Johansson

Rated: PG-13

Director: Wes Anderson


                Whilst pitching an over-the-top intermediate film script to my mentor, Gunther Hoos, he uttered a motto that I now live by:  “Keep it simple stupid.” To put it in less blunt terms, the idea behind the film should be simple and the execution complicated. For reference, he steered me in the direction of Wes Anderson. Anderson specializes in simple stories wrapped in extravagant packaging . In “Rushmore,” a high school student and a businessman compete for a woman’s love. In “The Royal Tenebaums,” a man seeks to reconnect with the family that hates him. In “Moonrise Kingdom,” two outcast children fall in love. Despite the straightforward narrative, these films have a big-budget feel to them. That brings us to this week’s film “Isle Of Dogs,” the story of a boy searching for his best friend. Let’s find out if it’s any good shall we?

                Set twenty years in the future, the Japanese city of Megasaki is overcome with dog flu; a disease that prompts the exile of all the canines in the city. The dogs are relocated to Trash Island, where life for man's best friend is both bleak and short. However, not everyone in Megasaki is happy about the new edict. One of these dissenters is Atari (Koyu Rankin), the ward and nephew of the city's Mayor (Kunichi Nomura) who flies to the Island in the hopes of being reunited with his dog Spots (Live Schrieber). After a messy landing, Atari comes across a gang of dogs (Norton, Balaban, Goldblum, Murray, and Cranston) who help to escort him through this trash-filled Narnia. Atari will stop at nothing to find Spots, even if it means his death.

                This is one of the best films of 2018. That said, while this film is animated it is not a film for children. Anderson made this movie for film buffs and animation lovers and yet parents were taking kids in large numbers to see this movie. The film itself is a metaphor for Japanese internment camps and exiling diseased individuals; subjects which may be too extreme for anyone under the age of nine. Additionally, there are a few graphic moments in the film where dogs suffer some pretty grievous injuries. Anderson was inspired to make a film that was reminiscent of the works of Akira Kurosawa and Rankin/Bass and that is exactly what this film is. "Isle of Dogs" is a stop-motion “Seven Samurai,” which I loved. Overall, I was incredibly impressed with what Anderson accomplished with this film.

                Anderson took a story that he, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman, and Kunichi Nomura envisioned and wrote a script for it. Anderson keeps all the Anderson-isms such as indie music from a 1960's recording artist, perfectly lined up shots in the center frame and those weird technical-machines (which are supposed to be futuristic but look like they are from 1975). The most important thing to remember about this film is how personal it feels. Anderson wanted everything about this film to feel intimate. The actors recorded together in the same room (with the exception of Goldblum who was recorded over the phone). The figurines look hand carved. Everything about this movie screams "made with care".

                “Isle Of Dogs” is a beautiful love letter to samurai films and animation. It’s filled with wonderful performances from Bryan Cranston and Edward Norton; not to mention Murray, Goldblum, and Balaban. The animation is magnificent to look at, but most importantly, the story is incredibly powerful in its subtext. “Isle Of Dogs” is a must-see animated movie for adults to help us continue our nostalgic journey back to our childhood. This is one of my favorite movies of the year and, hopefully, this is the film to beat for the animated Oscar next award season.


scott kurland