Hachikō, a dog who faithfully continued to wait for his master for nine years after his death at Shibuya station, entered the Japanese culture as a symbol of loyalty in the 1930s. Statues have been erected in his honour and numerous films about his relationship with owner Professor Ueno have been made. These are the kind of dogs that inhabit Wes Anderson’s delightful stop-motion animation despite being tossed aside to an island of trash by order of a fascist ruler.
Set 20 years in the future on a fictional island this dystopian tale is intricately designed in its love for Japan, its cinema and especially the work of Akira Kurosawa. Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) has serious historical beef with dogs and uses outbreaks of snout fever and dog flu as an excuse to flush them out of his town. Thing is, his orphaned nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin) who the cat-loving Kobayashi has taken under his wing, misses his guard dog Spots so goes on a daring rescue mission to retrieve his best friend.
The main pack of dogs are in awe of Atari’s loyalty and decide to help him. There’s the gossipy Duke (Goldblum working his usual magic), Rex (Ed Norton), Boss (Bill Murray) and King (Bob Balaban), all of whom had loving owners in their previous lives. They are joined by a stray named Chief (Bryan Cranston) who loves biting and is pitted against robot dogs due to his fearsome skills.
The dogs’ barks are translated into English and the humans are occasionally translated by interpreters. A pro-dog campaign is led by foreign exchange student Tracy (Greta Gerwig on top form) who sports a sweatband to match her political beliefs. Yes, this is, without question, a Wes Anderson film. The creatively designed dogs and humans sit beautifully beside his trademark dead-pan humour. Scraps break out in swirls of cotton wool and sushi is poisoned with an eye for exquisite detail. It’s almost overwhelming how much oddball charm, inventive imagery and endearing sight-gags Anderson fits into one film. Repeat viewings will surely be rewarded.