Every Wes Anderson film is "quirky", but I think with Isle of Dogs - the director's ninth feature film in 22 years - we've finally gotten to the first one that's just flat-out fucking weird. Whether it is the good kind of weird or the not-so-good kind is not a question I expect to resolve for myself anytime soon.

The film is Anderson's second animated film, though it's a different beast altogether than 2009's Fantastic Mr. Fox. That film used a scruffed-up dollhouse aesthetic to tap into the nostalgia of children's literature and playtime; Isle of Dogs has an entirely different sort of stylisation, one that's no more interested in realism, but which is far less scruffy and far more expansive and detailed. If Fantastic Mr. Fox looks back to the charmingly crude work of Władysław Starewicz in Poland, Russia, and France between the 1910s and 1930s, Isle of Dogs is more in line with the vaguely horrifying animation of Communist bloc animators in the '60s and '70s. But even that's not quite it.

So anyway, the plot is a sci-fi adventure comedy with a target audience of grown-ups pretending to be children, set in the near future, when a millennium-old feud between a powerful Japanese family and the whole species of dogs comes to a head. Mayor Kobayashi (Nomura Kunichi, who was involved in writing the film's story) has taken advantage of an outbreak of a dog-specific disease - possibly one that was engineered by his cronies - to banish every dog in the anime-style ultra-city of Megasaki to the island just off the coast where all of the city's trash is dumped. The first dog sent belongs to his 12-year-old nephew and ward Atari (Rankin Koyu), and six months later, not a dog remains on the mainland. It's at this point that Atari steals a small plane and crashes on Trash Island, hoping to find his beloved dog Spots (Liev Schreiber), and here his story intersects with that of a pack of five dogs who have established themselves as one of the more powerful gangs on the west side of the island: Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), all former house pets, and the grim, nihilistic stray Chief (Bryan Cranston). The four former pets all team up to outvote the hostile Chief to help Atari find whatever has become of Spots. Meanwhile, back on the mainland, a scientist and political opponent of Kobayashi's named Watanabe (Ito Akira) has found a cure, and it's down to the efforts of a high-school newspaper, spurred on by the irritating American transfer student Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig), to uncover the legacy of Kobayashi's corruption.

A lot going on - too much. Any time the film leaves the Isle of Dogs, it sags: that is the one absolute statement I am willing to make about something not working here. Otherwise, the main characteristics of Isle of Dogs are that it is busy as hell; and it is also bizarre as hell. I haven't even started to poke at the latter of those, and I'm not sure that I could do so all that successfully, since much of what makes the film such a wildly strange experience comes down to a matter of tone. It is the nature of all Anderson films that they are full of bone-dry deadpan humor, but Isle of Dogs pushes that into some extraordinary new register. The film is precise, maybe the most precise film the director has ever made, precise in the way that can only happen when one can control every solitary aspect of the environment as one can in animation. The geometry of every shot, the precise timing and synchronisation of movement, the way that backgrounds are routinely stripped of all but the most basic detail in order to focus attention on specific elements, all add up to a thing that I can barely understand: Wes Anderson minimalism.

It is, I think, his attempt to marry his obsessively arranged diorama aesthetic with the clarity and clean lines of Japanese graphic art, or a catch-all idea of Japanese theater (a notion strongly reinforced by the presence of a Noh play within the film); the result is a film that is dominated by rigid demarcations of performance, both by the voice artists and the animators. It is a film whose narrative rhythms are as formally tight as the exacting lateral camerawork that has long been an Anderson staple; and there's something very amazing about this as an experiment in completely managing style in every facet of a film's production. It is almost certainly the most unified Anderson film. This means, getting back to my point from forever ago, that the film's humor is as orderly as its imagery. Which isn't to say that it's not funny - sometimes extremely funny indeed - but that it is fucking dry. And based as much in recurrent patterns and rhythms as in the absurdity that typically drives comedy.

The film makes for an intriguing follow-up to the 2014 The Grand Budapest Hotel. The two films are Anderson's most immaculately self-contained, taking place in a wholly fictional world that is derived from a well-established cultural shorthand (fading Old Europe in the years before WWII; futuristic dystopian Japan); they are the two films in his career with the most absolute control over color, spatial geography, thematically-motivated Alexandre Desplat music (lilting music box confections there, militaristic adventure music with Japanese-influenced orchestration here), and the deadpan comic acting of a remarkably full cast - Isle of Dogs might not have as top-to-bottom amazing an ensemble as The Grand Budapest Hotel, but it's a close second. They are also perhaps his two most violent. But where the last movie is a study in blossoming chaos through the heavily organic form of Ralph Fiennes, Isle of Dogs never relinquishes a molecule of control. It is a perfect object, in its gorgeously simple production design by Paul Harrod and Adam Stockhausen, turning Trash Island into a fairyland of expressive colors and deliberately unreal details (the film puts a lot of effort into muddying the difference between Japanese and English, especially at the level of in-world signage and text, and I think it's mostly to the end of turning Megasaki into an abstraction on par with Grand Budapest's Zubrowka or Moonrise Kingdom's New Penzance: a dream of a real place that the dreamer never visited), and in its character design, with all of the humans looking almost like wonderful little wax carvings, with skin that leaves the mark of their construction and manipulation, while the dogs are treated with far more realism in their fur gently whipping in the constant wind.

The one effect of this is the extraordinary pleasure of seeing imagination brought to life without any compromise: if 2018 produces a more idiosyncratic film at the level of world building or baffling comic tone, I'll be stunned. The other effect, much worse I'm afraid, is that Isle of Dogs is maybe the least emotive film Anderson has ever made - and considering that the whole thing hinges on the warm and deeply nostalgic relationship between a 12-year-old boy and a dog, the lack of emotion isn't just disappointing, it's pretty fucking confusing, as well. Emotion's not everything, of course; The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, the director's worst film, is his worst in part because of how nakedly maudlin it is. But the thing that Anderson's films have always been best at, and have become inordinately great at in the 2010s, is combining deadpan wit, limber physical comedy, and a sweetly painful melancholy. Isle of Dogs is too airtight and focused to have that melancholy, though I think it thinks it does: the only pop song used in the film (it appears twice), "I Won't Hurt You" by  The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band, positively reeks of dreamy-eyed sad loveliness. And Scarlett Johansson plays a dog whose only apparent purpose is to add a sense of bittersweet whimsy into the proceedings (something Johansson's voice is, to be sure, uniquely well-designed to do). The film wants to feel; I'm just not confident that it actually does. Still and all, it's a slippery, complex thing, full of moving parts and lots of things to process in its elaborate mise en scène, and even by Anderson standards, I'm pretty sure it will take a second viewing before I'm at all confident in my reaction to this film. It's just that I'm not exactly looking for that second viewing to happen, like, right this second.