"Never take off the mask."
"Never take off the mask."

Unmasked: “Isle of Dogs”

Read until the end of the review (or just scroll down if you don’t want to read my nonsense) as you will see a new idea that came from a friend and that I plan to put in my reviews whenever someone has the desire.

Sometimes chances take us by surprise but not in a good way. You go to the cinema the first time not knowing what you’re going to watch and you come across a boring movie. You don’t go the next time, thinking: “What are the odds of something really good being screened?” and, of course, something really good is played. You then go a second time, feeling hopeful because of what happenend the previous time and you find yourself watching an absolute disaster (at least according to you). In this moment you’re already thinking that there’s probably something extremely wrong with you yet you try a third time (it’s a charm, isn’t it?) just because there’s a possibility for you to watch one of your most anticipated movies (but you know your luck already so do you really believe it’s going to happen?) but, of course, by FILMurphy’s Law, you’re again left empty-handed. Here’s when you reach your critical point and you’re about to give up on everything that contains the word “random” in its context. And just then in front of you comes one ridiculous shaggy dog which suddenly brings the smile back to your face and leaves it there for the next 100 minutes. Well, at this moment, you realise that there might be some hope for you after all.

This hope has a specific name, though, and it’s Wes Anderson. I’m not sure how many of you have heard of him but if you haven’t, make sure you fix that mistake immediately. Wes is not doubt one of the most innovative and genius movie creators of our time and each movie of his is somewhat a cause for celebration. Although what may sound weird is that the only thing that reminded me of what I was going to watch now was not him but the trailer that I saw literally a week ago by complete chance without even knowing that the director had this in store. And what did actually Anderson hide under his sleeves this time? Well, to say it short, dogs and Japanese people. At first glance it’s a strange combination but at second, third, fourth .. Nth we see one of the most impressive with its style and way of expression productions in the last years. I’m not saying that the movie is perfect in every aspect but I can conclude for sure that it doesn’t have a weak one. Here are some of the reasons which I hope will convince you to have a look at the film:

First and (most likely) foremost, the main reason the movie is what we see is, as I already mentioned, Wes Anderson. My first contact with his works seems like a long time ago and it was when I watched “Fantastic Mr. Fox” which gave animations a whole new different and almost revolutionary perspective (or the so-called stop-motion technique) and breathed new life into the genre and the technique itself which was otherwise kind of forgotten with the developments in computer-generated images. Then a couple of his masterpieces followed up (my favourite of which is “Moonrise Kingdom”) where his work could be noticed from kilometres away as long as you were familiar with at least one of his creations. In any case, the way the director builds the story (his inspiration came from a road sign, enough said), throws in very thin and delicate but at the same time fresh sense of humour and in general tries to give the proper credit to the great Kurosawa whose work served as an inspiration for the movie, should serve as an example to everyone else how an accredited movie should be made and how even with zero expectations, the audience can be extremely pleasantly surprised.

Without any form of conversation, this scene is way stronger and has a way higher impact on people than whole other movies that have come out recently.

Second of all, there’s another special part of what Anderson’s created and that is the movie’s plot. The storyline of “Isle of Dogs” is so masterfully written that the fact that half of the movie is in Japanese and still everything is amazinly understandable for everyone should tell you enough. Actually part of its charisma comes from that detail itself as the non-verbal communication that is achieved speaks more than words themselves even when the characters move like it’s an 80’s animation (which is kind of the whole point, though). Let’s not also miss the fact that the Japanese people speak their own language whereas the outcast pets communicate with them in a somewhat doggish English which is one of the concepts that are used to implement the ideas for mutual understanding without considering any kind of ethnicity, past and so on. For the rest it’s Wes and his team’s “fault” as the strongly political, as it looks at first glance, story is presented in such a refreshing way that it made a person like me, who doesn’t care about politics at all, get all the analogies and entertain myself at the same time. And yes, the movie’s topics relate to and describe the current political situation and relationships in the whole world extremely correct but also in a very direct and amusing way and I can only hope that the metaphorical dogs and cats will really reach the right people who should reconsider their thoughts and actions.

Thirdly, even though I already mentioned the stop-motion effects, I’ll repeat myself just because Anderson and his know-how deserve to be praised. “Isle of Dogs” is a really beautiful and eye-catching movie and even the mountains of trash will appeal to you and resemble gorgeous painted/generated landscapes. The dogs in the movie are also super cute and even if you’re a cat person, I don’t think you’re not going to appreciate them properly. If you’ve done the smart thing too and have watched at some point “Fantastic Mr. Fox”, then here you’ll see almost literally more of the same which in this case can only be a positive for the movie.

The fourth thing would be that Alexander Despla’s soundtrack is extremely authentic and well-selected and among the traditional Japanese music you will also hear a couple of the songs being played in Kurosawa’s movies which is another reference to the famous Japanese director and writer. The dubbing and the lip sync (or in this case more like the snout sync) are aiming pretty high as well and you won’t have any problems with entertaining yourself even with the dogs’ coughs (which, by the way, are one of the most randomly happening things but at the same time one of the funniest in the movie). I guarantee you that the signal Atari and Spots have, for example, will be stuck in your head for a long time even after you leave the cinema.

Oracle, one of the funniest characters and coolest ideas in the movie, which “sees” the future. Long story short, a great metaphore of how the media strongly influences the public’s opinion.

Last (fifth) but not least, since I mentioned the sound and the dubbing, Anderson has also made sure to pick out the best of the best among the actors and there’s no surprise in the fact that the main characters are entrusted to titans in the industry such as Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum who do their job in more than a satisfying way. From the female part of the cast I should mention Scarlett Johansson who is behind the single main female character in the movie. Among the other stars we notice Harvey Keitel, Liev Schreiber, Ken Watanabe, Frances McDormand and John Lennon’s wife (in the role of movie Watanabe’s assistant) who are left kind of in the background but together with the others successfully manage to build the forming pack.

“Isle of Dogs” is personally one of the most pleasant surprises so far this year and as I already mentioned in the beginning, this time I’m extremely content that I finally came across an awesome movie. No matter whether you’re an animation fan (or in particular this type of it) or not, the movie will definitely succeed in not only making you laugh (not the type “hysterically laughing / laughing out loud because of a ridiculous joke” as it it done in recent “comedies” but more like in the “okay, that was pretty cool and I understood the sarcasm beneath it, so well done” way which is actually the great part in the whole thing) but also leaving you think about the world we live in and what we can do so that everyone’s living situation is similar to the one in which Atari and his true friends end up at the end of the movie. And for an ordinary road sign which just says “Isle of Dogs” this is a pretty huge success, isn’t it?

8.4 / 10

And as I mentioned in the beginning of the review, here I will post the thoughts of a close friend of mine with whom I watched the movie and who expressed the desire to speak his mind about it here. His poetic way of thinking and expressing himself is very different from my perspective on things and therefore I’m very happy that he decided to join.

So, dear readers, I present to you the new heading “Guest Review” which at some point might find its place among the main ones but that’s if more people express a desire to join so for now it will stay like that. Have fun reading!

A really well-made movie with graphics perfectly matching the Japanese culture. The story in its time-sequence is filled with many twists and turns which provoke you to think about the mankind and the power of its selfishness. One look towards the Trash Island (the place where the events happen) gives a good explanation why humans are nature’s crown of thorns – abandoned factories, power stations, radiation and tons of trash. It’s just as if it’s convenient for us to throw anything we don’t need far away in order to live better. And when it comes to “the best friend of man”, it emphasizes this lack of common sense, adding cruelty to it. But as in every movie, this one has a happy ending too – the dogs are returning to their place among humans, the bad guys are punished, and the main characters live happily ever after. The Kobayashi dynasty continues to be in charge but in a more modest and reasonable way, led by an 11-year-old kid …

To sum up, I have to say that “Isle of Dogs” is a movie with a message – among the funny moments and the many ups and downs, we may perceive the idea of the power of the common sense, the responsibility the mankind has to nature and its children and that somewhere between the relationship “dog – master” lies something more powerful …

Dilyan Georgiev

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