As the visual design and graphic composition of Wes Anderson’s movies keeps getting more sophisticated, I cannot resist the enchantment of this stop action movie featuring among other things, mass incarceration, poisoning, unjust laws, a mad dictator of a Japanese city, and a whole island made up of neatly baled trash around which live the exiled creatures, and the rats they co-habit with.
I felt the homage to Japanese culture throughout the movie. Especially thought provoking were the use of Japanese language and its translations, sometimes through an interpreter voiced by Frances McDormand, sometimes shown in subtitles on the screen. Anderson used Japanese actors for several key roles, and Ken Watanabe is one of the most effective, as the doctor in search of a cure for the dog flu that has plagued the city. However, the chief characters are the dogs, and their voices are unmistakably American — Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum and Liev Schreiber, and in minor roles, Scarlett Johannsen and Greta Gerwig. The plot is about the mad mayor’s ward, a young boy named Atari (Royu Rankin), who goes in search of his faithful dog, Spots. And so begins an odyssey that begins with a plane crash, and ends with a trolley ride.
I admit though I usually love Greta Gerwig, I wish that her character had not been such a key part of the plot, voicing the American exchange student who feels like a great white savior come to rescue the dogs and the lost boy. I also found the style of her hair off-putting.
But the way each frame of the film is so beautifully composed, the graceful editing from scene to scene, the imaginative and sudden appearance of an amusement park, the convincing tone of the voices of the dogs, all of these things made me forget the flaws, and yes, the way I can imagine Japanese might be offended by the use of their culture.
The movie hints at the terrible things happening now in American culture: deportation of immigrants, environmental catastrophe caused by overconsumption, unjust rulers taking charge by inventing their own rules instead of following a well established rule of law. Even though there is a thread of humor, especially when it comes to gossip, and tricks performed by show dogs, there is also a seriousness that is not overwhelming because of the charm of the images, but always present.
The two romances thrown in are more evidence of Wes Anderson’s genius at juggling many balls in the air, and having them explode into fireworks before they land with a satisfying splash in a safe pool of water.