Isle of Dogs

An outbreak of canine flu has mutated and begins to decimate the human population of Megasaki City. Strong measures are needed and Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) quarantines all of the former four-legged friends to Trash Island, making it, now, the “Isle of Dogs.”

Laura's Review: A

Japan's Kobayashi dynasty have always been cat lovers, but dogs got their due when The Boy Samurai ushered in the 'age of obedience.' But now, in a near distant future, Megasaki City's Mayor Kobayashi (voice of Kunichi Nomura), is quarantining all dogs to Trash Island using the justification of a 'snout flu' epidemic. Setting an example, he deports his own dog Spots (voice of Liev Schreiber), procured as his 12 year-old ward Atari's (voice of Koyu Rankin) bodyguard, first. But a pro-dog movement starts under Science Party candidate Professor Watanabe (voice of Akira Ito), who is working on a cure, and American foreign exchange student activist Tracy Walker (voice of Greta Gerwig). Six months after losing Spots, Atari pilots a Junior-Turbo Prop to search for him on the "Isle of Dogs." Say that title quickly and you'll have some idea where writer/director Wes Anderson (who developed the story with Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura) is coming from. But this intricately detailed, multi-chaptered tale is also an ode to the cinema of Japan, finding inspiration in such films as Kurosawa's "The Bad Sleep Well" and Ichikawa's "Fires on the Plain." This is Anderson's second foray into stop motion animation after his Roald Dahl adaptation "Fantastic Mr. Fox" and it is a stunning achievement featuring Anderson's doll house design aesthetic, painstakingly crafted puppets and an A level vocal ensemble. The film is broken into parts, each announced with a title card in both English and Japanese kanji (we are notified when flashbacks begin and end in similar fashion). In keeping with his inspiration, Anderson has all Japanese characters speak their own language but decided against using subtitles, leaving us to deduce meaning from emotive puppets when they are not being translated by Interpreter Nelson (voice of Frances McDormand). The dogs speak English and do not understand the Japanese language, and while some have pounced on this device to cry racial insensitivity(?!), the more natural explanation is that humans and their canine best friends have never spoken the same 'language' and Anderson did not wish to subtitle 'Arf.' (Rest assured, narrator Courtney B. Vance speaks English.) When we see Spots dropped from a trash tram car, it is with sinking heart, the dog locked inside a carrier crate. But on the other end of the island, a pack of dogs roam free. Rex (voice of Edward Norton) is their fearless leader, Boss (voice of Bill Murray) a former baseball mascot, King (voice of Bob Balaban) Doggy Chop's spokesdog and Duke (voice of Jeff Goldblum) the gossip who informs them that the lovely Nutmeg (voice of Scarlett Johansson) has apparently mated. The lone stray of the group, Chief (voice of Bryan Cranston), a shaggy black mutt, is unsentimental about former masters, informing one and all 'I bite.' After Atari's crash landing, the dogs approach and come to understand the young pilot's mission. Rex begins to lead a search party towards the other end of the island, but when his, King, Boss and Duke's tram splits off onto a cable destined for 'crushing, compacting and incineration,' Chief is left to carry on, hoping to meet his friends again. Along the way, Chief succumbs to instinct, trying to protect Atari from a Pagoda Slide he isn't tall enough to ride, then ultimately - gulp - responding to a command to 'Fetch!' Atari rewards Chief with his first bath with very surprising results. Meanwhile, back in Megasaki City, Kobayashi's military is developing an army of robot dogs to combat 'canine saturation' as he and his Hatchet-Man, Major-Domo (voice of Akira Takayama), silence news of Watanabe's cure. Tracy, who's developed a crush on the little pilot from afar, leads the resistance, locating Watanabe's dejected assistant Yoko-ono (voice of Yoko Ono) to procure the serum. The film, with its brilliant craftsmanship, is unmistakably Anderson with its cross-sectional spaces, split screens, machinery (the trash trams recall "Grand Budapest's" cable cars) and precocious children. Although this film's colors are muted, red being the exception, the yellows, oranges and greens of "Moonrise Kingdom" glow in a luminous Trash Island cave composed of old sake bottles that looks like stained glass if composed of hard candies. The bag of garbage that causes a standoff between Rex's crew and a gang of shaggy, cream-colored canines is amusingly detailed (animated maggots!) while also indicating the dogs' perilous chances of survival. Anderson also dabbles in more traditional animation, used on monitors and the television sets which inform Trash Island's pug Oracle (voice of Tilda Swinton). The film's most delightful aspect is its puppets though, the dogs' fur composed of the wooly fibers used in teddy bear manufacture, their eyes large and expressive. The human puppets are composed of a translucent resin that looks like wax, tiny teeth oddly menacing. Tracy features a billowy blond afro and freckles which move when she smiles. Watanabe's appearance was based on legendary Japanese actor Toshiro Mifune while Moro is cast as a pale ghoulish thug. Oscar-winning composer Alexandre Desplat ("The Shape of Water") uses taiko drums and shinobue flutes (the impressive traditional opener was composed by Kaoru Watanabe). The screenplay features word play and deadpan situations, like Nutmeg's exhibitions of 'tricks.' Japanese speakers are sure to be gifted with tidbits denied to those who are not. Dog lovers are sure to embrace "Isle of Dogs," a film that champions man's best friend, but it is Anderson's kinship to children that appears to inform his best films - "Rushmore," "Moonrise Kingdom" and now this one. Grade:

Robin's Review: B-

Eben serves his time and, when released, heads back to the only home he has known. He is ostracized by the town folk for his misdeed, his wife, Cheryl (Amy Jo Johnson), has left him for another local fisherman, Jimmy (Mark Keily), and she refuse to let Eben see his daughter, Sara (Emma Ford). Eben, though, is determined to stay and get back into his lost world. When he is befriended by a wily old lobster trapper, Popper (Philip Baker Hall), who helps the younger man rebuild his self-respect, Eben gets a second chance at having a life. Director and co-writer Ian McCrudden (who penned the script with his star, Thomas Hildreth), does a fine turn in telling a story that begins with anger and hatred as Eben thinks with his heart and not his head, with tragic results for himself and those close to him. Upon his return to Vinalhaven, Eben is a changed man but must prove it if he is to find redemption. The bulk of “Islander” is focused on Eben putting the pieces of his life back together, even if not the way it was before. He is a better person for it, as you would expect. Hildreth, as Eben, gives a sincere performance as a man whose anger destroys his life and he has to find the spirit to get it back. Philip Baker Hall, always a reliable presence on screen, fits the bill as the wise old muse whose friendship to Eben makes a difference. The rest of the cast fill their spaces well enough, although some Maine accents work a lot better than others. McCrudden uses his coastal Maine island locale to beautiful affect with cinematographer Dan Coplan doing a fine job with his high definition digital lensing. Islander” is a well crafted film that has a lot of heart and soul.