Isle of Dogs | Kilburnlad | Film | Reviews

Kilburnlad

Isle of Dogs


Isle of Dogs

After a bit of a break from the cinema, this week I saw Isle of Dogs. The trailer had intrigued me and I was looking forward to seeing something a bit different from the mainstream offerings. It was screened during the children's school holidays, which may have tempted some parents to take their little ones to see it. However, apart from being an animation with lots of dogs, I don't think that this film is aimed at children. As if to prove the point, a couple sitting next to us with their daughter left after about 20 minutes. I'm not sure whether it was the child or the adults who so quickly became disillusioned with what they were watching, but the utterances suggested that it wasn't what the parents were expecting.

It's a stop-motion animation, with the dogs having a very life-like appearance, save perhaps for their overly glassy eyes, that occasionally shed tears. The location is Japan, and the 'human' dialogue is Japanese, which often isn't translated. Instead we rely a commentary. The dogs, however, have an impressive cast of English language 'speakers', including Bill Murray, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig and a very sultry sounding Scarlett Johansson as the former show dog Nutmeg; who's tougher than she looks. There's also a contribution from Yoko Ono, playing the research scientist Yoko Ono!

The plot is that Kobayashi, the corrupt mayor of the fictional city of Megasaki (a cat lover) is intent on ridding the city of dogs. His stated reason is to curb the spread of dog flu and other canine diseases, including the dreaded 'snout fever. To this end all dogs are exiled to the neighbouring 'Trash Island', a waste depository that bears the scars of former industrialisation. The first dog to go is Spots, who is in fact the bodyguard dog for the mayors nephew, Atari (I just love the choice of names in this film), who is none too pleased to see his faithful companion go. In fact he steals a plane and flies to the island to rescue Spots, where he is met by a band of dogs led by Chief, a stray who can hold his own in any fight. There follows the story of how, despite Chief's initial reluctance, this merry band search for the missing Spots.

Meanwhile back at Megasaki a research scientist has found a cure for snout fever and the other dog diseases, but Kobayashi doesn't want to know, destroying the test results. It turns out that disease wasn't the real reason that Kobayashi wanted to get rid of the dogs. But he's not having it all his own way, as there is a protest group opposing his actions, led my an American exchange student voiced, very appropriately I thought, by Greta Gerwig.

As the story unfolds there are some surprises concerning Chief and Spots, and we learn more about what happened to Spots when he was first dumped on the island. We see a rescue squad arrive to take Atari home, complete with a pack of mechanised dogs. But Spots has some tricks in his mouth.

I really enjoyed this film. For me it was allegorical, although I haven't come across any reviews that mirror that view. To me the dogs represented beings that were not welcome, the solution being to cast them out of sight. This is not an uncommon reaction in the world today, although we're talking people not dogs. The corrupt excuse for exiling them, the silencing of those who dissent and the demonstrations in support of the oppressed. This would all be lost on most children, but the dogs are cute and funny so it's not all bad news for the little ones, although the film has a parental guidance certificate.