Nobody cares what I think about Wes Anderson‘s Isle of Dogs (Fox Searchlight, 3.23), which opens tonight. I’m not even sure I care all that much, and I’m sitting right here. Anya and Yanna are staring at me now, and their eyes are saying “well…?”
Okay, I’m an animation hater — I admit that. But Isle of Dogs isn’t “animation” — it’s an extremely refined Wesworld realm by way of immaculate stop-motion canines — so exacting, so detailed, so balanced and dead center. And defined by an intense fixation upon (a) Japanese culture, (b) mountains of smelly garbage (white worms, fleas, half-eaten dumplings, piles of empty Sake bottles…thank God it wasn’t projected in Aromarama) and…I’m getting off on the wrong track there. I sound negative, but I didn’t honestly feel that way as I watched it. I felt respectful but distanced, and that’s not a bad thing per se.
Isle of Dogs is a tidy fable about good, soulful dogs joining forces with good, thoughtful humans in order to push back against the schemes of ugly, scowling humans. It’s about calmness, humanity, compassion and love. I was glad I was there last night (inside theatre #1 at the Westside Landmark) but I wasn’t…how to say this the right way?…enormously transported in a deep-down sense as much as technically impressed by how exactingly composed it all is.
Loved the Japanese drums! The drums are 90% of Alexander Desplat‘s score.
It certainly feels like another realm, this creation, this latest visit to Andersonville. You don’t feel as if you’re watching a movie as much as visiting a stop-motion art exhibit in a museum with seats.
So I couldn’t quite fall into Isle of Dogs but I was telling myself (and I mean this right now) that I might have really enjoyed it if I’d dropped a tab of LSD a half-hour before it began. Except I haven’t dropped acid since my early 20s, and if I’d actually done that last night…uhhm, I’d better not think about this any more. But Isle of Dogs is an LSD movie of sorts.
I admire the effort that went into it, and the devotion of incredible focus and discipline that it demanded of Wes, or should I say vice versa? There’s no way to put it down (and I wouldn’t want to do that anyway) except to say (a) I was unable to lose myself in it and yet (b) I studied it very closely and (c) was never less than politely fascinated.
L.A. Times critic Justin Chang has complained that Anderson has marginalized the Japanese characters by (a) having them speak their native language without subtitles and (b) having his dog characters (voiced by Bryan Cranston, Liev Schriber, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban) speak English.
Well, it is a dog movie so naturally the dogs are going to converse in the director-screenwriter’s native tongue, and with erudite, English-speaking dogs being the basic template of comprehension it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to subtitle the Japanese (i.e., the only humans except for Greta Gerwig‘s Tracy Walker, a visiting activist American), and the only way to avoid that would be to have the Japanese speak English with Japanese accents, which would be ridiculous.