By Yumi Doi, Translated by Bruce Rutledge
One critic has called the works of film director Wes Anderson “Baroque Pop.” It’s a musical term that describes rock songs or recordings mixed in with classical elements, but it’s right on the money. This Wes Anderson film is a tale of a nerdy, paranoid protagonist and his friends who help him rescue some dogs; it is wrapped in peculiar humor, fantasy and romanticism. The film really does come off as a rock & roll song with a classical feel.
This stop-motion animation film is set in Japan. It’s his second stop-motion film, following “Fantastic Mr. Fox” of 2009 and it is chock full of admiration for Japanese film and art. The film won the director’s award at the Berlin International Film Festival this year. In the film, we’re taken to an imaginary city 20 years in the future called Megasaki. Dog influenza is raging, and Mayor Kobayashi (voiced by Kunichi Nomura), sensing danger, exiles all the dogs to Trash Island. However, Kobayashi’s adopted child, Atari (Koyu Rankin), heads to the island in search of his beloved dog Spot (Liev Schreiber). Helping the youth is a group of alpha dogs: Chief (Bryan Cranston), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum) and Rex (Ed Norton). A great battle begins when the dogs find out they’re being chased by the city police.
The dog muppets, made painstakingly with alpaca hair, have outstandingly expressive personalities, as if they were actually alive. Also, the side stories fleshing out the main tale — scenes of sumo, kabuki, panicking TV news anchors — are made with awe-inspiring precision. The obsession with details provide the film with its driving force and also make it a little strange. The love and enthusiasm cannot be ignored. This film is not about capturing a perfect sense of Japan; it’s about the image of Japan inside Anderson’s imagination.
Wes Anderson’s particular sense of humor comes across time and again, like when the cat-loving mayor uses cat heads to denote a group of hunting dogs. Fans of Anderson will love this film as will dog fanatics and anyone who loves muppets. Speaking as a fan of the film, I plan to get the DVD as soon as it is available. I plan to watch it over and over to admire the fastidiousness with which the dog’s expressions and set details were made and listen to the star-studded lineup of voice actors (Yoko Ono, Ken Watanabe, Mari Natsuki, Takayuki Yamada, Shota Matsuda, Ryuhei Matsuda, et al). This film is another Anderson original that will wow his fans.