movies | isle of dogs

Thursday, May 3, 2018


"Will you help him? The little pilot?"
"Why should I?"
"Because he's a twelve year old boy. Dogs love those."

After nearly a decade, comes another stop-motion-animated movie, directed by film visionary Wes Anderson. Released in March 2018, Isle of Dogs features the voices of Bill Murray, Edward Norton, Scarlett Johansson, and Yoko Ono, among others.

Different from most of Anderson’s films which were mostly set in the 20th century, Isle of Dogs takes place in a dystopian Japan. It consists of a villainous dictator, controversial government decisions, and young teenage activists strongly voicing their demands for change. (Sound familiar?)



In the film, set twenty years in the future, Megasaki City decides to cast away every living canine from their land onto a distant wasteland, believing that the animals have contracted a harmful disease. Our attention is brought to the island, as we are introduced to five dogs, that later venture to help Atari, a young boy who bravely flew to the island in search of his guard dog. 


Other subplots that arise in the film follow a group of scientists aiming to find a cure, a nation’s leader with some radical schemes using his power to hinder the scientists' efforts, and a group of school children opposing the government's agenda. Riveting, yet symbolic to our present day.

The plot’s quality far exceeds Anderson's previous films. His talent takes the grim, unsettling scene of a dystopia (involving the natures of a corrupt political propaganda), and combines it with a heart-warming dog-and-boy-friendship adventure tale, oddly–and magically–turning it into something that can still pass as a children's bedtime story.

In contrary to the doubts surrounding the film’s depiction of modern-day Japan, I think that a number of things proved how well the film pays tribute to the nation’s culture. This includes the fair use of the Japanese language, as well as the appreciation to other cultural references shown in the film. References from the taiko drums, impeccable Japanese backdrops, to the tedious preparation of a bento box. 

I don't want to undermine any objections from the real people of Japan regarding the film, but I will say this: A worldwide audience is hard to please. Especially these days, when a Western script might mention the word "geisha", and all hell will break loose. To be fair, I might not be able to call the film a perfect, complete representation of Japan’s elaborate heritage, but for a Hollywood production, Isle of Dogs still got plenty of things right.

The adequate amount of humour infused into the movie also plays to its strengths, along with a distinctive, detail-oriented visual language that is just as impressive as Anderson’s previous animation, Fantastic Mr. Fox. Compelling symmetry, and a consistent colour palette. Quirky, yet meticulously sequenced. Graphic, yet not unbearably gory. 

In terms of the love interests, the romance is also typically shallow; so much so, that it almost appears unnecessary to the overall plot. This happens frequently in Anderson's films, but maybe this is why I've always enjoyed them so much anyway. Dogs are saving Japan. We don't have time for cheesy romance. 



I did find, however, that the film didn’t heavily focus on one clear protagonist, like Anderson’s previous works, but rather on many different characters within the various subplots. Even though this succeeds in adding complexity to the plot, it becomes a drawback for scattering the viewer’s empathy.

We also can’t ignore the repeated “Wes Anderson” things seen within the movie, apart from the romance and visual language. One of them being, for example, how the boy’s parents had died in a crash since the beginning of the story; a recurring “dead parent” scenario in nearly if not all of Anderson’s films. 

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Frankly, I think that Wes Anderson knows how cliché Wes Anderson is. And being Wes Anderson, he doesn't seem to plan on changing that. Like a painter that keeps using the same colours, he repeats his filmmaking patterns both aesthetically and narratively, and at the end, these successfully establish his trademark as a director, whether or not we like it. You can say it's annoying, but let's face it; it continuously sells.

Wes Anderson films are an acquired taste, but Isle of Dogs may have just succeeded in reaching beyond just his usual audience. I applaud the production crew, especially the animation team, for creating a work of art that not only told a story, but also spoke to a large aspect of what society is constructed of today. 


From a Wes-Anderson-film enthusiast, and a dog person,



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