“All barks have been rendered into English.”
If one were to ask a gathering of committed moviegoers to pick the director most likely to open a film with this notification, I’m confident that a majority would pick Wes Anderson. And they would, of course, be correct. Isle of Dogs, the director’s ninth feature and second foray into stop-motion animation, is as precious, minutely detailed, and magnificently deadpan in its humor as any of his previous work. But like its immediate predecessor, The Grand Budapest Hotel, it is also a film about the evil of which mankind is capable—in this case even to the animals presumed to be man’s best friend.
The film takes the form of a fable, set in the near future in the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki. (Unlike the dogs, the Japanese characters—which is to say all of the human beings save one—do not have their words rendered into English, except when explicitly restated by a translator voiced by Frances McDormand. I leave to individual viewers to decide whether this is a way of center-staging the hounds—my view—or sidelining the Asian protagonists.) Under the false pretenses of “canine saturation,” “dog flu,” and “snout fever,” the essentially hereditary mayor, Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), has banished dogs from the city, resettling them on “Trash Island,” which is exactly what it sounds like: an apocalyptic dump reminiscent of the detritus-laden world that Wall-E the robot was left to clean up.