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Soundtrack review: Isle of dogs (Alexandre Desplat – 2018)

Film scores

Soundtrack review: Isle of dogs (Alexandre Desplat – 2018)

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“Isle of Dogs” (犬ヶ島 Inukeshima) is a 2018 stop-motion animated comedy film written, produced and directed by Wes Anderson. Set in a dystopian near-future Japan, the film follows a young boy who goes in search of his dog after the whole species is banished to an island due to an illness outbreak. As always in recent years for a Wes Anderson movie, Alexandre Desplat writes the score.

The score opens with a few seconds of sombre monk chants in “Shinto shrine” and as the Japanese percussion follows the setting of the story is obvious right from the start. It’s as if Desplat decided to sit the first cue out and wait a bit before introducing his usual sound. Actually his usual sound morphs under the influence of the Japanese inserts as the next cue “The municipal dome” continues mixing voices and drums while slowly starting to sound like a Desplat score for an Anderson film. The transformation is complete once I hear “Six month later Dog + Dog – Fight” which I actually love. I recognise the jumpy, almost neurotic pace of a said Desplat / Anderson collaboration, in the vein of “Grand Hotel Budapest” but with Japanese percussion taking centre stage. I start identifying a theme as well (the brass motif that opens “The hero pack”) which is quite catchy actually.

That’s really what “Isle of dogs” is all about actually and come to think of it if you are listening to this score you pretty much know what you are in for; the usual Alexandre Desplat plucked, easily unsettling and alert pace for a Wes Anderson movie with the added bonus (if you are into them) of Japanese drums and voices. They are present all over the score to a point where, if you aren’t a fan of the sound, they could get annoying. The combination of percussion and brass playing of each other was enough for me to enjoy passages from this score but if you were expecting the level of excellence Desplat showed with his 2017 scores you should maybe wait for the next one. If you are a fan of this very particular kind of musical irony though, or a fan of either of these two auteurs you will have a pleasant standalone listening experience with this one.

Cue rating: 76 / 100

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Mihnea Manduteanu

I have been listening to film music for 25 years and writing about it since 2014. I've written over 1000 reviews and I can't imagine myself doing anything else. I am also a member of IFMCA (International Film Music Critics Association).

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