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Saturday, April 14, 2018

Isle of Dogs

To watch a Wes Anderson film is to enter his own peculiar world. Even though Isle of Dogs is set in Japan (for which he has taken some criticism), it is really his version of Japan. I suppose he chose that country because of its rigid cultural rules, although I'm only guessing.

In this version of Japan, in the future, there is a dog flu going around. The cat-loving mayor of Megasaki decrees that all dogs be exiled to a trash island off the coast. The first dog to go is Spots, who is the guard dog and companion the mayor's ward, Atari. Soon all dogs are on the island, scrounging for scraps.

Atari, 12 years old, gets an airplane (I wasn't quite sure how he did) and flies to the island, in search of Spots. He is aided by a pack of five alpha dogs, ostensibly led by Chief, who was a life-long stray. He is the most resistant to helping Atari, but the other dogs, who were pets, decide to help.

Those who know Anderson will recognize certain things--formal, stilted dialogue, labels (helpfully, he tells us the beginnings and ends of flashbacks) and bizarre, off-the-wall choices. For instance, Spots is able to shoot exploding teeth out of his mouth, and the trash island is mapped as completely as any real place.

This all makes for a pleasurable experience at the movies, but it's not up to his last couple of films, Grand Budapest Hotel and Moonrise Kingdom. Dog lovers will appreciate it more (and cat lovers may be angry), as the film rests on the notion that dogs are our best friends, mainly because they are loyal.

As for the cultural appropriation claims, I suppose Shakespeare shouldn't have written Romeo and Juliet because it was set in Italy. There can be no boundaries to the artistic imagination. That being said, I think he erred in making the leader of the revolt against the mayor an American transfer student with blonde hair and freckles. It is another in a long line of the "white savior" cliche.

Many Anderson regulars are on hand as voice actors: Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, F. Murray Abraham, Jeff Goldblum. Brian Cranston is great as Chief, and despite her being white, Greta Gerwig is wonderful as Tracy, the savior. Also in the cast is Yoko Ono, playing a scientist named Yoko Ono.

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