The Berlinale goes to the Dogs

The bizarre, visually stunning stop-motion animation film – which is definitely not for children – is a poetic, political allegory about Japanese dogs.

February 18, 2018 22:39
3 minute read.
The Berlinale goes to the Dogs

Stills from animated dystopian fable ‘Isle of the Dogs.’. (photo credit: TWENTIETH CENTURY FOX)

‘Bob, Bob, Bob Balaban...,” crooned Bill Murray to the tune of the Beach Boys’ “Barbara Ann,” leading other cast members in song at the press conference for Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, an animated dystopian fable about Japanese canines which was the opening-night attraction of the 68th Berlinale, the Berlin International Film Festival. Isle of Dogs is the first animated film to open the festival.

Balaban, an actor/producer best known for playing an NBC executive on Seinfeld, and Murray were two of the actors who voiced characters in the film taking part in the press conference, where well-known stars such as Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Liev Schreiber and Tilda Swinton rubbed shoulders with Japanese/Canadian child actor Koyu Rankin and Dogs co-writer, actor and all-around cool guy Kunichi Nomura, who wore his sunglasses throughout the event. The cast continued to sing when Rankin was introduced, serenading him with a chorus of “Happy Birthday,” to celebrate him turning 11.

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Also on hand were Anderson with his co-writers, Roman Coppola (Francis Ford’s son and Sofia’s brother), and Coppola’s cousin, Jason Schwartzman, who starred in several Anderson movies, including Rushmore.

The bizarre, visually stunning stop-motion animation film – which is definitely not for children – is a poetic, political allegory about Japanese dogs that have contracted a deadly flu and are banished to a garbage-strewn island where they must fight each other for survival. It features Anderson’s characteristically eccentric and retro touches and plays like a combination of Kurosawa’s The Seven Samurai crossed with a Hayao Miyazaki film, mixed with the found-art, surrealist aesthetic of American artist Joseph Cornell.

“Jason and Roman and I, we started this project with the idea to do a story... I mean, it doesn’t sound like a great pitch, probably, to do a story about some dogs abandoned on a garbage dump, a pack of dogs who live on garbage, but we had also been talking for some years about wanting to do something in Japan or about Japan, something related to our shared love of Japanese cinema, especially Kurosawa. So,in a way, the story could have taken place anywhere, but what really made it come to life for us was when we decided this should be in a sort of fantasy version of Japan,” explained Anderson.

Anderson said that he was able to assemble such a great cast because, since they were voicing characters in an animated movie, “You can’t really say, ‘not available,’ because we could do it any time.”

Murray added, “I’m all cranked up on chocolate and a little bit of champagne right now, and I’m going to say that being a voice with this group was a little bit like being in the ‘We are the World’ video.”

Murray continued to clown with the cast around at the festival opening, where he played the drums with musicians on the red carpet. As many German luminaries gave speeches during the ceremony leading up to the film, Cranston napped – or pretended to nap? – on Murray’s shoulder.

German Commissioner for Culture and the Media Monika Grütters got one of the biggest hands of the night as she commented on the #MeToo movement, saying, “It’s a shame that instead of celebrating women in pantsuits, we have to deal with men in bathrobes.”

Dame Helen Mirren, who is a celebrity ambassador for L’Oreal, which is one of the sponsors of the festival, was also present at the opening.

The Berlinale will run until February 25 and Isle of Dogs will open around the world in the spring.

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