I have long been a fan of Wes Anderson. It is safe to say he is one of my all time favorite filmmakers. I also do my best to be socially aware of what’s going on in the world. And when Isle of Dogs was released there was some concern about how it might be socially insensitive. I read articles from both sides of the discussion and despite my desire to see the film and not miss an Anderson film in the theaters, I chose to wait to see it. Needless to say, I was very excited for the opportunity to review the film and form my own opinion.
As to whether or not the film is socially insensitive I’m not really sure I’m the guy to answer that question, or eve form an argument one way or the other. Especially after seeing the film, I agree with elements from both sides. What I can do is critic the film from a quality standpoint. I am, after all, a film critic. Well, from that perspective, I loved Isle of Dogs.
Isle of Dogs takes place in a futuristic Japanese city of Megasaki. The authoritarian mayor of Megasaki City, Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), clearly hates dogs and, after the spread of dog flu, signs a decree banishing all dogs to a place called Trash Island.
All of the dogs make a new life for themselves on Trash Island, some adapting better than others. Their lives are turned upside down when the mayor’s orphaned nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin), steals a plane and goes to the island to look for his dog Spots (Live Schreiber), the first dog banished under the decree. Atari meets up with a group of dogs (Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray and Jeff Goldblum) that all agree to help him find Spots. Well, call but one, Chief (Bryan Cranston), a former stray who has no allegiance to humans. So Atari and the dogs, including the reluctant Chief, head off on an adventure to find Spots.
Meanwhile back in Megasaki, Professor Watanabe (Akira Ito) finds a cure for dog flu, but when he shows the results to Kobayashi, he destroys the results. He has no interesting brining the dogs home. A young american exchange student, Tracy (Greta Gerwig), begins to suspected a conspiracy and starts an investigation to find the truth.
There are some chilling moments of commentary on today’s society when Kobayashi talks about how much he hates dogs, one can’t help but think of a certain orange haired world leader and the way he talks about immigrants. It’s a little unsettling.
There are a few artistic choices that Anderson chose in making this movie that I found interesting. The dogs all speak english, which I think we can all assume is a translation of their native dog language. Likewise, all the Japanese characters speak in Japanese with zero subtitles. I can only imagine that since Anderson is telling this story from the dog’s perspective, since they don’t understand what the Japanese human’s are saying, Anderson doesn’t want us to understand either. (Unless of course you speak Japanese, then you’re fine.) However, this choice does sort of separate the average American viewer from the Japanese characters. Also there in the inclusion of Tracy, the white american girl who pulls the rug out from under the conspiracy. I guess on one hand it’s nice to have one human that the viewers can understand, but why does it have to be a white girl that helps save the day? We couldn’t it have been an outspoken Japanese girl? The result would have been the same.
There is one area where the lack of communication between the Japanese speaking characters and the dogs/audience is super effective. The relationship between Atari and Chief and the way it develops is absolutely the heart of this story and one of the strongest relationships that Anderson has delivered in a film for a long time. The story of Atari and Chief is a beautiful one and I’m glad I finally got to experience it.
In the end I really enjoyed Isle of Dogs. Was it problematic? It seemed like there were a few moments that could have been handled differently, but I think at it’s core, at it’s heart, Isle of Dogs is a wonderful, heartfelt story, and I hope that is the biggest take away from this film.
The film is presented in a 2.39:1 widescreen format and 5.1 Dolby Audio. This is a beautifully animted film and it looks and sounds fantastic here.
Extras include: Animators: (4 min.) Cast Interviews: (5 min.) Puppets: (4 min.), An Ode to Dogs: (2 min.) Megasaki City and Trash Island: (3 min.) Weather and Elements: (3 min.) These are some great behind the scenes snippets. The interviews are particularly fun, because they animated them as their characters from the film and based the animation around things happening in the sound quality of the recording.
I’m not going say this moving isn’t culturally insensitive. There were certainly moments that caught my attention. I will, however, say that the movie has a great story and one of the best emotional relationships I’ve seen in a Wes Anderson film in a long time.
20th Century Fox presents Isle Of Dogs. Written and Directed by Wes Anderson. Story by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura. Starring: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Kunichi Nomura, Ken Watanabe, Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johansson and Tilda Swinton. Running time: 101 min. Rating: PG-13. Released on Blu-Ray: July 17, 2018.
Tags: Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Isle Of Dogs, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton, Wes Anderson