I’ll confess, sometimes I want to shake Wes Anderson and yell “Stop being so bloody Wes Anderson!” So twee and cool and hipster and symmetrically framed and deadpan. In the hipster bar of the boutique cinema after you seen Isle of Dogs you are likely to overhear some guy called Quentin guffawing at the people who missed the oh so obvious homage to Late Spring or some obscure Japanese film. But to counter this, the Fantastic Mr Fox style stop motion is gorgeous, and there is a warmth and affection in every scene, like somewhere you’ve always known and feel immediately at home.
The story revolves around the Kobayashi family (Quentin will probably tell us that is a nod to Masaki Kobayashi) who have an ancient enmity with dogs. Set in a near future, when Megasaki City is overrun with dogs carrying snout fever, Mayor Kobayashi passes legislation to banish all dogs to Trash Island, the isle of dogs. The film then follows Atari, a ward adopted by Kobayashi, who flies to the island seeking his protector dog, Spots. And for an Anderson film, it has actual gags which you laugh at, not just a long shot of a character standing immobile which passes for comedy.
There have been questions of racism over the film – for instance the dogs speak English, people speak Japanese, often without subtitles. And there is a strong white saviour vibe in the Greta Gerwig voiced exchange student. This is not the first time we’ve been here with Anderson. Although, it could be argued it is also an allegory for scapegoating immigrants.
What saves the movie from these reservations is the respect and care Anderson has for Japanese cinema. And also, I am a dog owner and dog affection rarely intersects with film appreciation. The Venn diagram of those two interests is pretty small. Laurie Anderson’s The Heart of a Dog and we’ll permit some early Lassie for nostalgia. But generally dog films does not boast a notable history: Hachi, K-9, Turner & Hooch, Marley and Me, Beverly Hills Chihuahua – you could happily skip these in your cinema going history. So it’s a relief to have one you can claim happily on an artistic and canine level. However, like many Anderson films, while I loved every scene individually, but the whole left me feeling unsatisfied.