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Wag the dogs

Four reasons to watch out for Wes Anderson's animated film 'Isle of Dogs'

A still from ‘Isle Of Dogs’.
A still from ‘Isle Of Dogs’.

At the Berlin Film Festival this year, Wes Anderson was judged Best Director for Isle Of Dogs. It’s rare for an animated film to win a top prize at a major festival, but even rarer for a director of one to be awarded. But Anderson’s style is so idiosyncratically his that it hardly matters if the film is live-action or animation—something his first venture into stop-motion animation, Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), made clear. His latest effort, about a group of dogs helping out a boy in dystopian Japan, released in theatres on 6 July. Here are four reasons why you should make time for it.

That voice cast

The varied inflections of Tilda Swinton, Bryan Cranston, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Edward Norton, F. Murray Abraham. The instantly recognizable tones of Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel and Jeff Goldblum. Anderson regulars like Bob Balaban and Bill Murray. And the tantalizing prospect of Yoko Ono as “Assistant Scientist Yoko Ono".

The beauty of stop-motion

Stop-motion has been around almost since the start of cinema itself: The first film to use this technique, in which real objects are physically manipulated to make it look like they’re in motion, was The Humpty Dumpty Circus in 1897. In the decades since, it’s been used for adventure stories by Ray Harryhausen, in macabre fantasies by Jan Švankmajer and Jiří Trnka, and by Britain’s Aardman Studios for slapstick comedies. Stop-motion is a detailed, painstaking, fastidious process—qualities also found in the cinema of Anderson, who first tested the waters with Fantastic Mr. Fox, and has now returned to the genre with Isle Of Dogs.

Tribute to Japanese cinema

Anderson saw Isle Of Dogs as an opportunity to not only set a film in Japan but to pay tribute to its cinema. Speaking about the film at the 2017 Berlinale, Anderson said, “There are two directors who are our inspirations: (Akira) Kurosawa and (Hayao) Miyazaki," adding that the Japanese animator “brings the detail and also the silences, I think. With Miyazaki you get nature and you get moments of peace, a kind of rhythm that is not in the American animation tradition so much." And in a programme note for New York’s Metrograph repertory theatre, he wrote that Kurosawa’s films “were on our minds and in our DVD players every day of the creating of this movie."

The craft of Tristan Oliver

Tristan Oliver has a specific area of expertise: He specializes in stop-motion cinematography. Oliver has worked on some of the best animated works in recent times—Loving Vincent (2017), Chicken Run (2000), Wallace And Gromit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit (2005)—in addition to collaborating with Anderson on Fantastic Mr. Fox. On Isle Of Dogs, the two have scaled up operations, with 50 units shooting simultaneously at times.

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