Isle of Dogs

Studio: Fox Searchlight
Directed by Wes Anderson

Mar 21, 2018 Web Exclusive
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A generations-long war between dogs and cat-loving samurai has come to a head in Megasaki City. A pandemic of snout fever has swept through both the domestic and stray populations of the urban area. Before it can evolve and spread to humans, the wicked Mayor Kobayashi – a descendant of the anti-dog samurai clan – puts into effect a controversial Executive Decree: all of the prefecture’s canine population will be forcibly exiled to the nearby Trash Island.

After six months in their hybrid leper/prison colony, the dogs have fallen into roving packs, competing over the scraps of food found in the constant influx of garbage. Loner Chief (Bryan Cranston) resorts to joining a pack of former house pets (Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban). They find new purpose in their pathetic existence when 12-year-old Atari Kobayashi, adopted ward of the evil, dog-hating mayor, steals a prop plane from the local airport and crashes it on Trash Island while searching for his beloved lost mutt, “Spots.” They join him on a journey from one end of the island to the other while being pursued by the mayor’s army of militarized robo-dogs.

Isle of Dogs is a visual marvel, no doubt. From the strangely picturesque industrial wasteland the dogs traverse to the details in their rippling fur, the film is an impressive work of stop motion animation. (Arnaud Desplat’s score, particularly the booming taiko drum pieces that play over the credits, is equally superb.) To a degree, the animation undercuts the Wes Anderson-y elements of the movie; in a stop-motion film, where meticulous attention to detail is already part of the process, the filmmaker’s trademark symmetry, impeccably-curated production design and stylish camera work is far less pronounced. The story itself is fine: some plot points feel overly contrived, but they do take our heroes through many interesting-looking environments and lead them to cross paths with colorful characters. If you identify as a dog person, you’ll get much more out of the script’s many, many jokes about canine behavior.

This may not bother everyone, but it needs to be mentioned that Anderson’s blanket appropriation of Japanese style and culture has the potential to leave a mildly gross, Orientalist aftertaste in some viewers’ mouths. The fact that (outside of young Atari) our main heroes are Western-voiced dogs and a white, American foreign exchange student draws additional attention to the too-often-“wacky” otherness of the film’s setting. (Poisoned sushi, sumo wrestler thugs, et al.) While the effect was surely unintentional, it’s still problematic; you get the feeling that if this weren’t an animated movie people would have been up in arms about it.

Author rating: 5/10

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Average reader rating: 9/10



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James
March 21st 2018
5:48pm

There is a significant difference between cultural appropriation and setting a movie in another location. You complain about sushi and sumo wrestlers.. But sushi and sumo wrestlers are a thing that exists in Japan.

Trent
March 21st 2018
7:43pm

WES ANDERSON HAS TOO MANY WHITES IN HIS MOVIES!

(Wes makes movie set in Japan celebrating Japanese culture)

CULTURAL APPROPRIATION!

TJ
March 22nd 2018
3:37am

“Anderson’s blanket appropriation of Japanese style and culture ...” [whine] [mewl] I’m so effing sick of the “cultural appropriation” walking-on-eggshells sensitivity, I’m gonna dig out my Pocahotass costume and wear it for a week.

Keyser
March 23rd 2018
4:45pm

Problematic, people like this reviewer have ruined the word.  It’s a white western film-maker’s story, he gets to tell it how he pleases.  The Japanese do have their own film industry after all. If you watch much Asian TV on-line, you’d see some godawful stereotypes when it comes to the depiction of white Americans.  Somehow I doubt cretins in the Asian press whinge about it being problematic though.