Isle of Dogs (5 stars)

Isle of Dogs

GFF 2018: Astonishingly intricate and heartfelt animation from Wes Anderson

'Whatever happened to man's best friend?' implores a tearful scientist as the pooches of Japan are plunged into peril. Wes Anderson's latest returns him to the stop-motion style animation style he employed so adroitly in 2009's Fantastic Mr Fox. With an all-star voice cast that includes Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand and Scarlett Johansson, Anderson declares his love for all things Japanese in a sensationally rendered, soft-hearted tribute to the cinema of Akira Kurosawa and Studio Ghibli's Hayao Miyazaki.

Set in the fictional Megasaki City, 20 years in the future, it sees the metropolis's corrupt, cat-loving leader Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) whip the public into a frenzy regarding a 'canine saturation of epidemic proportions', which now threatens the human population. With dog flu and snout fever rife, Kobayashi oversees the expulsion of infected animals to Trash Island.

Meanwhile his 12-year-old ward Atari (Koyu Rankin) flies to the island to uncover the fate of his beloved bodyguard mutt Spots (Liev Schreiber). He's assisted in his quest by a pack of similarly exiled hounds, including affable domestic dog Rex (Edward Norton) and jaded stray Chief (Bryan Cranston). Back on the mainland, will the dog-owners – led by no-nonsense foreign exchange student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig) – rise up in time to stop the canine 'final solution'?

As the animals shuffle and scamper delightfully in their ever-so-slightly staccato manner it makes a wonderful fit for the director's unmistakably askew approach – that deadpan, faltering delivery of gung-ho heroism crossed with epic ineptitude, exemplified here by three-time Anderson collaborator Norton and taken to impressively by troupe newcomers Cranston and Gerwig.

Animation allows the director's imagination to run wild and free as he embraces the Far Eastern sci-fi setting in a film full of the kind of eccentric indulgences that have won him legions of admirers, as well as a fair few detractors. Despite the unfamiliar environs, in many ways this is a quintessential Anderson adventure, with its plucky youngsters, delicate Alexandre Desplat score, romance, friendship and redemption, and – of course – scrapes aplenty.

The message of tolerance and themes of fear-mongering, fascism and deportation means it's hard not to see present-day America as its target and yet its childlike optimism and capacity for forgiveness is heartening indeed. Confined to a single viewing, it's impossible to drink in the sheer wealth of detail in a film staged with mindboggling flair and precision, whose lust for life enriches every frame.

Screening on Wed 21 and Thu 22 Feb as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2018. General release from Fri 30 Mar.

Isle of Dogs

  • 5 stars
  • 2018
  • US
  • 1h 41min
  • PG
  • Directed by: Wes Anderson
  • Cast: Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Kunichi Nomura, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Courtney B. Vance, Fisher Stevens, Mari Natsuki, Harvey Keitel, Koyu Rankin, Liev Schreiber, Bob Balaban, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton
  • UK release: 30 March 2018

When the corrupt Mayor of Megasaki City sends all the dogs to Trash Island, his 12-year-old ward Atari (Rankin) goes there to find out what happened to his beloved Spots (Schreiber). Sensationally rendered stop-motion tribute to Japanese cinema, rich in detail and full of deadpan heroism and epic ineptitude. Delightful.