Isle of Dogs is a stop-motion animated comedy-drama film written, produced and directed by Wes Anderson. It has an ensemble voice cast of Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Courtney B. Vance, Fisher Stevens, Harvey Keitel, Liev Schreiber, Bob Balaban, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, F. Murray Abraham, Frank Wood, and Yoko Ono.
The Story/The Direction:
This film is set in a dystopian futuristic Japan where dogs are banished to an island after there is a dog flu virus outbreak. A young boy journies to the island to find his dog Spots (Schreiber). There he meets Rex (Norton), King (Balaban), Duke (Goldbloom), Boss (Murray), and Chief (Cranston) who agree to help him even though they don't speak the same language.
This film is Anderson's second stop-motion film after Fantastic Mr. Fox and like that film, the stop-motion looks great. He uses the space and does a lot with it. He is able to create relationships between these dogs, the people, and the audience that keeps them engaged for the 101-minute runtime.
The dogs are the main characters in the film and the excellent voice cast provides witty vocalizations for the audience to care about them. Anderson's also adds character to them through how they look. The dogs have matted fur, open wounds, and thin bodies that anyone with a heart can feel for. These dogs are devoted to their masters even though they abandoned them on this terrible island.
The biggest flaw is perhaps Anderson's world as if one is not able to accept it, the rest of the film will fall flat. The dogs have character but very little depth for most to invest in and no real protagonist to grab on to. Anderson's films are known be very quirky and because characters have little to give, the film feels very long even though it is only a little over an hour and a half long. In addition, Anderson's plays with the line between homage and cultural insensitivity. While there seems to be little malaise from Anderson as he does pay homage to Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki, he does play up a lot of Japanese stereotypes. For example, while this film gives an explanation of why the audience can understand the dogs and not the Japanese speaking humans, there is nothing given to why the English speaking ones are understood. The Japanese speakers are given nothing but a one to two-word translation. This "translation" then is used as a joke and nothing more as most can figure out what is said by context. Furthermore, the "savior" of Megasaki is American exchange student named Tracy who foils the Asian compliance stereotype. While one could say this is a fictional world and it's "typical Wes Anderson," why play up the Japanese themes? Why show the taiko drummers, sumo, kabuki, haiku, cherry blossoms, or the Yakuza tattoos? The cultural aspects are somewhat there and there's even a mushroom cloud near a city whose namesake is too similar to give pardon to. The Japan setting is clearly purposeful. The problem is there is no reason to why the film was set in Japan so much so that Anderson once said, "the film could have been set anywhere." Anderson may be thinking that by casting Japanese voice actors while placing this film in Japan but he's doing more harm than good. Having the Japanese translated via a non-explained translator or a punchline clearly shows a lack of appreciation of the culture which conflicts the homage that Anderson is trying to do. Otherwise, there are also a lot of the similar shots where one character is close up while everyone else is far behind them which can get repetitive.
Anderson is able to tell a cute tale about a boy losing his dog and going to find him while also adding in some government conspiracy of cat lovers. One cannot deny that the technical aspects of the film are on point but the direction is, unfortunately, the weakest point of the film. He may be misrepresenting Japan due to ignorance and honestly could be showing Japan on how he knows it. He uses Japan as a setting and uses its people in a way that only a non-educated person would. The conflict of lack of appreciation vs homage makes this film worse the more one thinks about it. It's not a bad film and if one looks at it as simply a Wes Anderson film, it can be enjoyable especially for those who are already fans of his. He does take his viewers to his world in the same way that he has done before. However, it is not one that would venture a second viewing.
Rating: 3.0/5.0 bowties
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