Wes Anderson’s latest effort, “Isle of Dogs”, is the heart-warming tale of a young Japanese boy’s search for his lost dog, who, like all of the other dogs in Megasaki City, has been quarantined on Trash Island. The story, while beautifully and masterfully told, has been the center of cultural controversy from the moment it was released.
Appropriately in theaters during 2018, the Year of the Dog, Anderson aptly chose to place his canine tale in Japan. Set in the near future, Isle of Dogs tells the story of a city run by the autocratic Mayor Kobayashi who decides that all canine companions must be exiled to the bleak Trash Island in order to protect the human population from the seemingly incurable dog flu virus. When the Mayor’s distant nephew decides that he has had enough of this treatment of the dogs, he heads off in search of his loyal protector named Spots.
Unfortunately, the boy’s rescue mission goes awry after his plane crash-lands in the heap of garbage where he is discovered by a ragtag group of dogs headed by Chief (voiced by Bryan Cranston). Chief stands out from the rest of the pack because he has been a vicious stray all his life and doesn’t want companionship. Together, this group battles both a language barrier and a country that wants to keep them apart by any means necessary, while all the searching for the long-lost Spots and learning what it means to accept others, in spite of their differences.
One of the most standout parts of this film is the creative use of translations. Most films struggle to come up with ideas on how to make English sound realistic in foreign countries, but “Isle of Dogs” has handled this perfectly. Through the use of a TV news translator (Frances McDormand), electronic devices, but almost no subtitles, Isle always has a reason for every word spoken in native or foreign tongue. Mostly the use of language barriers guides our attention as an audience and seamlessly shows us which POV we should be focusing on.
While there is some cultural insensitivity in the film, such as wasabi poison and the use of ridiculous Japanese names, there is no doubt that Anderson intended to showcase his love of Japanese culture with this movie and that any jokes told in poor taste were intentional. Anderson even went as far as to hire a Japanese co-writer for the film in order to avoid this kind of backlash and do the culture justice. Throughout the film, Japanese landscape is beautifully crafted with so much attention to detail that the audience can’t help but fall deeply in love with the country. Anderson once again shows that he is one of the few Hollywood directors working today whose films could never be mistaken for anyone else’s and this effort follows his patented formula perfectly. However, like most of his films, this one is so exactingly conceived in every aspect that it’s hard to pick out any specific moments which stand out for being particularly memorable.
While Wes Anderson’s film may at times be culturally insensitive and predictable, “Isle of Dogs” showcases mind blowing animation and heart warming moments that will touch every dog lover across the globe. Fans of his work will relish returning to his unique world, yet due to the universality of the subject matter, the film feels like one of the most accessible for Wes Anderson newcomers. Many audience members will find that the story is more about the horrible things that happen when we don’t accept others rather than pushing for a bigger divide. If we can be convinced that man’s best friend is actually man’s worst enemy, what hope do humans have of ever living in peace?