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Review: ‘Isle of Dogs’

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Promotional material for

Promotional material for "Isle of Dogs."

Promotional material for "Isle of Dogs."

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Wes Anderson’s latest stop-motion project, “Isle of Dogs,” is an odyssey that presents themes of redemption and loyalty and portrays the beauty of Japanese culture.

The film begins by setting up a bleak situation: a dog flu epidemic has been spreading through the fictional Megasaki City and is endangering the human population, leading the corrupt mayor Kobayashi (voiced by Kunichi Nomura) to banish all canines to Trash Island.

The first dog to be banished is Spots (Liev Schreiber), guardian of the 12-year-old mayoral ward, Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin).

Six months later, Atari steals a plane and travels to Trash Island in search of his beloved pet. Accompanied by a democracy of five gangly dogs, he treks across Trash Island to find Spots and bring him back to Megasaki City.

The groundbreaking stop-motion animation and the Japanese culture shown in “Isle of Dogs” helps carry the typical Wes Anderson storyline through its 101-minute run-time.

Altogether beautiful and terrifying, Trash Island is a macabre wasteland where the already sickly dogs turn desperate, brawling over the bags of garbage that serve as their sustenance. It’s in this world that Anderson plays with his signature style (which, let’s be honest, is basically its own genre now) using symmetry, color and tracking shots.

Anderson goes all out with the stop motion with several thousand handmade puppets, 3-D printed props and very little CGI. The use of puppets took 27 animators and a team of about 50 sculptors, who painted thousands of freckles and punched millions of individual hairs into puppets’ silicon frames.

“Isle of Dogs” is also an impressive showcase of culture. Most human characters speak fluent Japanese that is rendered through subtitles or narrators, which can be understood through context or sometimes is not translated at all. Japanese art forms such as kabuki theater, haiku poetry and woodblock prints are featured in the film as well.

“It’s clear that Wes Anderson put a ton of love into his fantasy Japan,” said Calvin senior Aaron Eastwood. “The Japanese in the film is the real deal, and I never once felt that the film took advantage of its setting to promote silly stereotypes. It’s stylistic, yes, but to me, that style never bordered on the offensive. If anything, the setting was a love letter to Japanese culture.”

Though beautiful and quite the stop-motion feat, “Isle of Dogs” is similar to many of Anderson’s other films: a reluctant hero, a cross-country quest, a coming-of-age story and themes of redemption and loyalty all ring true. Anderson has a precise stylized-storybook narrative that he sticks with, but in this case he seems to use it well enough to differentiate it from his other films.

There may be some that did not enjoy this film because they believe it is detrimental to Japanese culture, or because they thought the storyline was boring, but they also cannot deny that this film is, at its very least, an extraordinary piece of art. The amount of detail and craftsmanship that went into making this film is remarkable, and while storytelling quality can be debated, the artistic quality itself cannot.

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