(Release Info London schedule; March 25th, 2018, Picturehouse Central, 30 Orange Street, 17:00)
"Isle Of Dogs"
"Isle Of Dogs",tells the story of Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), 12-year-old ward to corrupt Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura). When, by 'Executive Decree', all the canine pets of 'Megasaki City' are exiled to a vast garbage-dump, Atari sets off alone in a miniature Junior-Turbo Prop and flies to 'Trash Island' in search of his bodyguard-dog, Spots. There, with the assistance of a pack of newly-found mongrel friends, he begins an epic journey that will decide the fate and future of 'The Entire Prefecture'.
'Canine-Saturation' has reached epidemic proportions. An outbreak of 'Snout-Fever' rips through the city of Megasaki. 'Dog-Flu' threatens to cross the species threshold and enter the human disease pool. Mayor Kobayashi of 'Uni Prefecture' calls for a hasty quarantine; the expulsion and containment of all breeds, both stray and domesticated. By official decree, 'Trash Island' becomes an exile colony, 'The Isle Of Dogs'. Six months later, a tiny, single-engine, miniature airplane crash-lands onto the teeming waste-land. A pack of five starving but fierce abandoned dogs scrambles to the wreckage and discovers a twelve-year-old pilot staggering from the burning fuselage. Atari, orphan-ward to Mayor Kobayashi. With the assistance of his new canine friends, Atari begins a search for his lost dog, Spots (Liev Schreiber), and, in the process, exposes a conspiracy that threatens to destroy all the dogs of 'Megasaki City' forever.
Atari is a heartbroken Japanese boy who makes a heroic flight to search for his lost dog. Mayor Kobayashi is the authoritarian who outlaws dogs from 'Megasaki City', though the consequences hit closer to home than he ever imagined. His greatest nemesis proves to be Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig), a feisty young foreign exchange student and editor of 'The Megasaki Senior High Daily Manifesto'. It's a paper that stands for transparency and truth. And Tracy believes that’s what all newspapers and news outlets should stand for. Even though it’s a student publication, they hold themselves to a very high, rigorous standard. That standard pushes her to discover the truth about the dog virus and Atari’s trip to 'Trash Island', and perhaps also the first hints of a crush. Tracy just admires Atari’s bravery. And she thinks he has a nice face. He’s the only person standing up to the madness that’s going on in 'Megasaki City'. And he’s doing it on his own for the love of his dog, which she thinks is noble.
Each member of the conversationally gifted 'Trash Island" pack has a well-worn canine name suggesting they're once beloved as top dogs, which only serves to remind them of how much they miss their former human homes. Rex (Edward Norton) is a wiry, wire-haired mutt with spiky, mottled coat and the eyes of an Arctic sled-dog. His ribs stick out like a cast-iron radiator. He's a sleeping on a lamb’s wool beanbag next to an electric space heater. So, he’s not some rich man’s dog. He was probably comfortably middle-class, maybe upper middle-class. But he has a work ethic. He’s scrappy, willing to be resourceful and to fight for what he needs. At the same time, he has had a certain baseline of comfort and so psychologically 'Trash Island' is difficult for him. He can only take so much. King (Bob Balanon) is a graceful, red-haired mutt with a sable snout and a handlebar moustache. He's dappled with scabs, scars, scuffs, and scratches. Boss (Bill Murray) is a stout, liver-spotted mutt with black paws and a tail like a stubbed-out cigar. He wears a soiled, grimy, unraveling, striped, woolen dog-sweater with embroidered baseballs and the word Dragons scrolled across it in cursive. When there's the chance of a great success, you need a mascot, someone that’s going to be with you when things get tough, but someone that you’re really going to want to be there when things go well. That’s Boss.
Duke (Jeff Goldblum) is a bohemian mountain-dog. Slender face, sleek ears, and a ballet-dancer’s overly-nimble gait. He has seven missing teeth and a consumptive dry-cough. Chief (Bryan Cranston) is a coal-black hound with long legs, black nose, a boxer’s jaw, and floppy, black ears with white spots all over them. He has the sturdy frame of a middleweight, but the starved mass of a long distance-runner. Chief is the odd one out, but he also has a great nobility. He represents the idea that with hope can come second chances. Spots is a 'Short-Haired Oceanic Speckle-Eared Sport Hound', who was once the beloved assigned bodyguard to the Mayoral ward Atari, but is now lost to the winds on 'Trash Island'. He's highly trained, highly sophisticated animal who's not only the constant companion to Atari but also protects him. In many ways Spots embodies the ideals of loyalty, duty and honor. Spots also finds romance amid the ruins with the steadfast survivor Peppermint (Kara Hayward). Peppermint has been terribly mistreated and Spots goes from feeling bad for her to falling in love with her. He’s really a dog who cares about other dogs.
Among the most enigmatic of 'Trash Island’s' dogs is Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson), the coquettish show dog with her femme fatale persona and curiously spotless coat of fur. Nutmeg is incredibly resourceful. She keeps her fur clean by collecting garbage ash in an old coffee bean can. The she works the ash through her fur from root to tip. That’s a very important part of the process. You've to work the ash through from root to tip. And then she shakes off the remaining ash and collects it in the found coffee bean can. Which she then stores for next time. She knows what it’s like to lose something and come back stronger. She might be more civilized than Chief, but she recognizes in him a fighting spirit and a leadership quality she admires. Plus, he has just the right amount of bite; and who doesn’t like a guy with bite? Jupiter (F. Murray Abraham) has chosen to live his life as though he’s given himself over to a Zen existence. He has a barrel of spirits around his neck. It's very wise because you never know when you might need a little shot, or when you’ll run into someone who could use one. And it’s a communal, convivial thing; we’re all going to drink from the same barrel; we’re all going to enjoy this together; and we’re going to find a way out of this mess. We would sure use Jupiter right about now in this poor old world of ours.
"Isle Of Dogs" is a grand adventure set in a near-future Japan in the grips of a canine crisis and mass anti-dog hysteria. Here, in a far-flung floating junktopia known only as 'Trash Island', a scrappy pack of exiled dogs who’ve banded together to survive makes an amazing discovery, the crash-landing of a little human pilot who will take them on a life-changing journey. The resulting journey is packed with humor, action and friendship. But on it's trek, it also pays homage to the epic scope and beauty of Japanese cinema, to the noble loyalty of canine companions, to the hopeful heroism of the small and the overlooked, to the rejection of intolerance and most of all to the unbreakable boy-dog bond that has launched countless escapades. The film is inspired by Japanese movies. It's a story with chatty canines, furred femmes fatales, a boy aviator, an intrepid school reporter, mutant viruses, mythical isle and step-by-step unraveling of a big human mistake. In fact, "Isle Of Dogs" may owe as much to the storytelling legacy of Akira Kurosawa as the history of stop-motion animation. The story’s invention expanded from a dreamlike spark to the spectacularly detailed creation of 'Megasaki City', the rubbish-geography of 'Trash Island', and a cast of misfit but hopeful characters, both fur-bearing and human.
An outsider (the little pilot) arriving in a new land (Trash Island), and an analogue of the timeless tale of, well, in this case literal underdogs striving against blinded oppressors. But the magic of it all sprang out of the details, from the charm and texture of each dog’s story, from the cluttered but artful architecture of 'Trash Island', from the idea that a child searching for his faithful pet might set off a world-altering chain of events. It just seemed the matching form for emotionally fluent, if down-and-out, dogs and a Japanese island lined with society’s strange, funny and downright calamitous discards. It’s a movie about talking dogs. Yet, it’s not a cartoon, it’s a movie. It pushes the boundary in terms of what people think can be done in this medium. In fact, stop motion animation’s century-long evolution has long been more creative than technical. Little has changed in the fundamentals. Though digital cameras and computers have smoothed the process, it’s still a matter of shooting the infinitesimally small movements of 3D objects frame-by-frame, in a painstaking process that nevertheless generates palpable life. So the biggest changes in the form have come in the content, in the kinds of stories one might tell, in pressing the limits of imagination.
"Isle Of Dogs" is a worldbuilding story that by it's very nature breaks animation norms and brings together all the themes, shots, emotional intricacy and adventures. From the intricate puppets and micro-sets arises this living, breathing realm of cold-nosed questers whose plight is intimately relatable. The feel is of a whimsical legend but the grounding is in the real concerns, big and small, of modern life; friendship, family, humanity’s future and coming together to clean up our messes. It's a story of disenfranchised dogs, but that's also a very real experience for human beings in every country and walk of life. The main characters might be dogs, but they exist in a zone between animals and humans. They've all the dog behaviors we know and recognize but we connect to them through their very human emotions, through their excitement, sadness, anger, hope and their love for one another and their friends. There are disenfranchised people, the throwaways. And the demagoguery of fear, the kind that leads all the dogs of 'Megasaki City' to be put on an island to fend for themselves, is something humans are dealing with as well. It's a very timely theme.
The music becomes another layer of a film that, not unlike 'Trash Island', is piled high with bits and pieces that, when combined, seem to alchemically forge a world that feels lived-in and alive in it's fantasia. If any single word seems to define the movie that word might be scale, both for the tiny scale of the intricate stop-motion work and the enormous scale of the story of how the 'Trash Island' pack unites in their trek towards freedom and to discover the potential in themselves. While the sheer number of individual moving pieces, physical and thematic, that make up "Isle Of Dogs" might be staggering, the paradox is that the prevailing core of the film is one of the most timelessly simple relationships on earth.
The animation is wild and the amount of detail packed into every frame is astonishing. It's a beautiful fable that takes you into a world of it's own, a world no one else could have imagined. With it's semi-fictional Japanese setting, it's construction out of comic book-like chapters and it's intercut themes of nature, heroism, technology, rescue and honor, perhaps it's only natural that the film is also reverberate with echoes of Japanese pop culture and some of Japan’s greatest film directors, from Yasujiro Ozu to Kurosawa to Seijun Suzuki, as well as the Japanese monster films of the 50s and 60s, with their climactic disasters. It's as referring to a whole range of Japanese filmmakers and Japanese culture, but Kurosawa is the main movie influence. It’s hard to even quantify Kurosawa’s impact on cinema because he arced so gracefully through a huge pendulum of genres from noir, to Samurai, to Shakespeare, to melodrama. Each seems to transcend the dark side of the modern world with characters of the utmost honesty and humanity. And seen in each is the legendary Toshiro Mifune, whose expressive countenance inspires the look of Mayor Kobayashi.
Another branch of inspiration came from two 19th Century, Edo-period woodblock print masters; Hiroshige and Hokusai, whose emphasis on color and line deeply influenced European Impressionists. Their ukyio- artworks capture fleeting moments of pleasure focusing on natural landscapes, far-flung travels, flora and fauna, geishas and kabuki actors. The film collects a wide swath of woodblock print images and the storyboard artists trawled through the extensive collections at 'The Victoria And Albert Museum' in London. Then, by osmosis, the folkloric Japanese style began to merge with the tactile, handmade feel of stop-motion. The world of "Isle Of Dogs" is kind of an alternative reality. It looks and feels like Japan, but it's a slightly dreamier version. That's the beauty of setting the film in a make-up city, in a make-up time; you get a certain amount of artistic license. The blending of old and new is very common in Japan. There are scenes in the film that are very minimalist and wabi-sabi; but then you switch over to the city, which is maximalist and very intense. The film is a scope of Samurai movies and adventure. It's a big movie in every way, but with simple basic themes that anyone can relate to.