Movie review: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)

The dystopian visuals are nevertheless beautiful, so as to make you almost forget how trenchantly political it is.

Isle of Dogs. “I love dogs.” When we finished watching this stop-motion-animated film at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany, I asked my wife what she thought the movie was a metaphor for. It may have been the wrong question.

It was, we decided, a response to a lot of things such as the abuse of power – by Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) and the manipulation of the masses in a government conspiracy, mechanization, plus a whole lot of other interesting things. Your list may vary.

Still, it was, in the end, primarily about a 12-year old boy named Atari (Koyu Rankin), nephew of the mayor, looking for his beloved pet on an island of trash. He meets some amicable, helpful canines, Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), and the less friendly street dog Chief (Bryan Cranston).

The voice cast also includes Scarlett Johansson as the dog Nutmeg, Tilda Swinton as Interpreter Nelson, and Greta Gerwig as Tracy Walker from Ohio, with the dulcet tones of Courtney B. Vance serving as narrator. Plus Akira Takayama, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe, Liev Schreiber, and Yoko Ono as Assistant-Scientist Yoko-ono.

Interesting to me is that even some of the more positive reviews (91% on Rotten Tomatoes) thought the film was distant. Mick LaSalle wrote: “We stay on the outside, admiring its originality and all the talent that went into it, without ever really finding our way in.” Not our experience at all.

The dystopian visuals are nevertheless beautiful, so as to make you almost forget how trenchantly political it is. There is taiko drumming at the beginning and the end that we found absolutely hypnotic.

I’m not savvy enough about the Japanese references to ascertain whether director Wes Anderson should be chastised for cultural appropriation. I will note that the female dogs didn’t have as much to do with the storyline.

Nevertheless, we liked Isle of Dogs a lot.

Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

2 thoughts on “Movie review: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson)”

  1. “Cultural appropriation” is a term and a concept that I dislike much like “Political correctness.” The idea that one must be slavishly accurate regarding one’s reflections of another culture tends to draw artificial boundaries around human experiences. In any art there are different STYLES, such as abstract, or impressionistic, and, no, No One can accurately convey a culture in which they were not raised. That doesn’t mean that it should be forbidden or only allowed in Very Narrow terms. Like PC, one should not use one’s views in a deliberately or casually insulting way (unless the deliberate is the whole 1st Amendment POINT one is trying to make, and certainly not claim it as one’s own, particularly for profit, but we humans exchange cultural elements like we exchange genes; we’re ALL bastards to one degree or another.

  2. Certainly, a few more groups of Americans than others are currently living under oppressive threats and practices, but oppression is certainly not exclusively a culturally American entity. So, I can agree, the charge of cultural appropriation by the author of the link provided, as well as from others, is overlooking important elements the film is trying to convey. The following link can explain it better: https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/what-isle-of-dogs-gets-right-about-japan. That being said, like about every other Wes Anderson movie, I much enjoyed the writing and dialogue, the subtext, the story, the bright colors and visual effects, and linear directing style, and would be willing to catch the movie again. I also enjoy, incidentally, how in just about every movie of his the precocious younger characters are more or less respected by the adults as equals who have things to teach them.

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