“Pain is strange. A cat killing a bird, a car accident, a fire… Pain arrives, BANG, and there it is, it sits on you.”, wrote the inimitable Bukowski, “It’s real. And to anybody watching, you look foolish. Like you’ve suddenly become an idiot. There’s no cure for it unless you know somebody who understands how you feel, and knows how to help.”
In Wes Anderson’s Isle of dogs (2018), set in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki, you witness pain through a boy’s eyes. As all of Japan’s good boys are declared sick and banished from the hearts and homes to Trash Island — under the false pretences of “dog flu,” or “snout fever”, one kid sets forth to find his dog.
What follows is a delightful stop-motion animation; that flows like a fable, punctuated with intricate tunes from Alexandre Desplat and a stellar vocal cast ensemble boasting the likes of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum and Scarlett Johansson.
The awkwardly beautiful tapestry of Trash Island where the poor abandoned dogs with their goofy faces and matted fur wander for scrap makes for a surreal setting. You can’t help but look at the similar themes in cinematic gems like White God (with not so subtle hints at immigration) or White Dog which questioned alienation and nationalism.
Isle of dogs has the dogs who speak English while humans, resort to Japanese. This translation technique works brilliantly ― almost like you are a dog watching the movie.
The dialogue is sharp and witty while the cultural ode to Japan is unmissable; the tin toy influence, Fukushima nuclear reference…
There’s also a subplot of the young boy, Atari, connecting with Chief, the stray dog while they search for Spots. The slow organic way in which they bond is heartwarming!
2. Duke (Jeff Goldblum) is always aware of various “rumors” that he’s heard from other dogs.
3. Boss (Bill Murray) plays a down on luck doggo who was once the mascot for a local baseball team and still wears his uniform proudly!
4. Chief (Bryan Cranston) plays a stray who has spent his entire life distrustful of the humans. He, however, befriends the young boy because that’s what dogs do!
5. Rex (Edward Norton) is perhaps the most rational doggo in the group. A firm believer in democracy, he suggests voting as against chasing impulses.
6. Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson) plays a show dog while maintaining that “show dog is not my identity”. She’s perhaps the only one in the Trash island with a clean fur coat.
Isle of dogs if spoken aloud sounds like “I love dogs” and this is what the movie brings home in a resounding fashion: all dogs are good dogs!
And they all deserve to be petted!