“Whatever happened to man’s best friend?”
Directed by Wes Anderson (The Grand Budapest Hotel, The Darjeeling
Starring Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Frances
McDormand and Scarlett Johansson
Isle of Dogs by Wes Anderson is a stop motion animation that will blow you away. The film starts with mayor, Kenji Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), banishing all dogs to Trash Island as they have the dog flu, and are therefore risking the health of the population of Megasaki. The mayor’s ward, Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), is the first person to have his dog sent away. The film follows Atari and a pack of dogs he meets on his journey to find his lost pet.
By rejecting commonly used computer-generated imagery (CGI), and returning to methods used in the original King Kong (1933) film, Anderson represents a traditional telling of a Japanese folklore, Momotaro which the film is loosely based off of, through Bunraku (puppetry). The added narration and use of tradition style Japanese art, remind us of these traditional art forms Anderson was inspired by.
The stop-motion animation, where the puppets are moved ever so slightly in each new photo of a series of photos to create the appearance of fluid movement is amazing, and the film is well worth watching just to see the puppet mastery that is at play. There are clouds of steam, smoke and explosions, the fur on the dogs even blows in the wind. There are scenes where men play the drums and sushi chefs cut live animals that will blow you away. As the human characters do not speak English, you are required to get a lot of meaning out of the emotion expressed on their faces, and the emotion is there, clear as day.
The human characters in the film speak in their native tongue, and as we are warned at the beginning of the film, are translated rarely and confusingly.
Note to viewer: The humans in this story speak only in their native tongue (occasionally translated via bi-lingual interpreter, foreign-exchange student, or electronic device)
All barks have been rendered into English
This ostracises the English-speaking viewer, as we are constantly trying to make sense of what is going on, grasping at little bits of translation, and emotive reactions as they are given to us. It reminds us how non-native English speakers must feel when they come into native English speaking countries. As the Japanese speaking characters are translated through other characters in the film, rather than through subtitles, the audience is left to guess at the authenticity of translation, as it often translated by dubious looking men on type writers, a young boy, an excitable news reporter who is often distracted by her emotions, or a biased exchange student. We only understand what they allow us to understand, and therefore they hold power over what we get to know, and whose side of the story we support.
The only American character – Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig), when she speaks out about the treatment of dogs – is told she will be deported. A reality for many people who are not in the countries they were born in, or unfortunately, even if they are. The power lies with the politician, not the people.
Anderson touches on the scientist/politician relationship, the mismatch of power that exists, that we see now in the real world as global warming is constantly ignored, no matter how much scientists tell us the world needs to act. The scientist finds a cure for dog flu, so that the dogs can return to mainland Japan, however the mayor ignores this and continues on his plight to rid the country of dogs. The politician has power over the scientist and can decide whether the people he has power over should react or should even know whether the science exists. This leads me to my favourite science quote so far of the films I have reviewed:
Pull yourself together and act like a scientist
A statement usually kept for ‘hero-like’ characters, this story reminds us that the politicians need the scientists to the save the day, to provide the cures, the technology, and therefore they need to work together. The scientists are the unappreciated heroes of many stories.
Isle of Dogs is a really interesting animation – it asks us to respect those that do not speak our native language and help those that are cast out of the homes. I thoroughly enjoyed this and the massive effort needed to pull it all together. Well worth a couple of hours of your time on a Friday night!