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Isle of Dogs

We trundled off to our local Cineplex tonight to see the new Wes Anderson stop-motion animation flick, Isle of Dogs.

To start with, the cast is remarkable:
Bryan Cranston as Chief
Koyu Rankin as Atari
Ed Norton as Rex
Liev Schreiber as Spots
Bill Murray as Boss
Scarlett Johansson as Nutmeg
Jeff Goldblum as Duke
Bob Balaban as King
Kunichi Nomura as Mayor Kobayashi
Akira Ito as Professor Watanabe
Greta Gerwig as Tracy Walker
Akira Takayama as Major-Domo
Frances McDormand as Interpreter Nelson
F. Murray Abraham as Jupiter
Courtney B. Vance as Nattator
Yoko Ono as Assistant-Scientist Yoko-ono
Harvey Keitel as Gondo
Yojiro Noda as News Anchor
Ken Watanabe as Head Surgeon
Mari Natsuki as Auntie
Fisher Stevens as Scrap
Tilda Swinton as Oracle
Nijiro Murakami as Editor Hiroshi
Frank Wood as Simul-Translate Machine

Wow! How do I talk about this film? Action-adventure-comedy-political satire. Dog movie. Dog barks come out as English. Humans speak their native tongue. It’s charming, gripping, visually beautiful, intensely creative.

The chief bad guy is Mayor Kobayashi and the young human hero who goes on a quest to find his dog Spots is his distant nephew, Atari Kobayashi. Many people would not see any significance to that name, but it jumped right out at me. In the game of Go (at which I’m a mediocre but avid player), atari is a direct attack on a group of enemy stones, one which requires a response or the stones will perish. Hmmm. Koichi Kobayashi is a 65 year old Japanese Go master, one of the great modern Go masters. In fact, there is even an opening strategy, the Kobayashi fuseki named after him. I wonder what other tidbits, references and details are embedded in this film, which I completely missed first time around (and maybe others I might miss again and again).

There aren’t many films I think I need to see a second time, but this is one of them. I couldn’t help but think this tale of dogs exiled to an island of trash because of hysterical fear and hate related to a curable illness, might in fact be a tale about contemporary America. Of course it’s also a dog story and who doesn’t like dogs, right?

Isle of Dogs is no doubt also a very strange, eccentric, ideosyncratic film and I know some movie-goers will have no time for that. For me though, it was wonderful.

Highly recommended.

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