Comic-style Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs is a Wes Anderson movie and Wes Anderson has a unique style that makes his productions quirky. My best example is The Grand Budapest Hotel (https://wp.me/p4c1s1-5M).

Photo: Press/Fox Searchlight

Wes Anderson tropes in Isle of Dogs are:

  • The creation of a separate world. In this stop-motion animation the world is ‘Trash Island’ off the coast of Japan. It’s a place where all the unwanted stuff goes – trash (obviously) and, in this case, dogs. Also, several of the characters speak Japanese and are not always translated into English. One of these is the cat-loving dog-hating Mayor Kobayashi who banishes dogs to Trash Island in the first place. There is a theatricality about being aware of this separate world and I did feel like I was watching a Japanese comic book production.
  • Children act like adults – in this case 12-year-old Atari who endangers his life in a mission to find his beloved dog Spots. Atari actually flies an aeroplane to the island, crash lands and spends the rest of the time hobbling around with a bad leg and a black eye. Another child on the mainland (an unfortunate choice I felt of an American exchange student Tracy Walker) uncovers the sinister plot behind the whole story and the two children heroically bring about change.
  • Speech patterns – The dogs – although not children – speak in distinctive adult tones and most of the lines are delivered deadpan which definitely adds to the comical nature of the film. It is this trope, mostly, that keeps Isle of Dogs from being a purely children’s animated film.

I enjoyed the ‘comic-book’ feel of the film. But I don’t think it’s a film many will enjoy. The fact that it was released in South Africa through Cinema Nouveau is perhaps an indication that it isn’t aimed at the majority of viewers. Alissa Wilkinson (https://bit.ly/2GkLNYv) felt that the downfall of Isle of Dogs was its lack of an important message. I disagree somewhat. I think the separate island for storing the unwanted is a modern theme that resonates in our global, trash-overflowing society.

Isle of Dogs is currently showing at cinemas in South Africa.

 

The Silence of God in Japan

I saw the adverts for this film when I was in London in December 2016. Liam Neeson’s gloomy figure dominated the posters which described the film in glowing terms that certainly made me want to watch it.

But if you, like me, thought Neeson would play a big part in Silence you would be wrong. His character is integral to the plot and indeed forms the very reason for the action. But Neeson appears only briefly at the beginning and then at the very end of this two-hour-forty-minute film by Martin Scorsese. The main action revolves around the characters Rodrigues (Andrew Garfield, who gives an excellent performance), and Garupe (Adam Driver).

The story is set in 17th Century Japan. Ferreira (Neeson), a Portuguese Catholic priest, had gone to Japan to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ, and then was rumoured to have apostasised. Rodrigues and Garupe do not believe this about their former mentor and set out for Japan to find him and prove the rumours false. What follows is a tale of extreme hardship and religious persecution.

When the pair arrive in Japan they are welcomed with open arms by the few Christians there, but are kept hidden for their, and the local Christians’ safety. Authorities get wind of their arrival, track them down and take them captive. From here the story follows Rodrigues, with Garupe featuring only on the periphery.

The Japanese authorities are shown in Silence as patient, clever, effective and cruel in their relentless efforts to persuade the Christians (priests and locals alike) to apostasise. For these authorities it was not simply a matter of getting Christians to conform outwardly. They wanted their hearts to change too. Manipulation, torture and killing all form part of their methods. And these methods create in their victims intense psychological conflict as they struggle not to betray the God of their faith. As the story progresses the audience begins to sympathise with the apostasisers (one slimy character apostasises and then seeks absolution several times).

In a haunting moment in the film, just as Rodrigues is about to give in, the voice of God speaks to Him. Without giving too much away, this moment, and the closing scenes of the film highlight what is portrayed as the ambivalent nature of apostasisation and how this act would not necessarily be the end for the Christian.

The title ‘Silence’ is meant to indicate God’s silence during these Christians’ struggles.

Silence is an intense, thought-provoking film, covering an era I knew very little about. It’s worth watching, but is long and may attract a limited audience only. It opens in cinemas in South Africa on 21 April 2017.

Read the history behind Silence here.