By John Liu
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
What do you get when you combine producer and director Wes Anderson with cute stop-motion animated dogs? Isle of Dogs! I’ve had my eye on this movie for awhile. From seeing the trailers, it looked like a very unique story. However, if you have not already seen the trailers, I suggest skipping them. I felt there were a few minor spoilers.
The movie takes place in a fictional city called Megasaki in Japan, where dogs are mysteriously getting the flu. Possible symptoms include sneezing, snout fever, and bloodshot eyes. Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) issues a decree to send all dogs to Trash Island to prevent the infection of humans. We are introduced to a pack of dogs — Chief, King, Duke, and Rex, surviving the rough life on Trash Island. Six months later, Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), the ward of the mayor, steals a plane and heads to Trash Island to find his dog, Spots. A foreign exchange student, Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig), has a conspiracy theory about a murder of a scientist and the mayor’s evil plan to deport dogs.
This movie features voices from A-list actors Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Greta Gerwig, Scarlett Johansson, Ken Watanabe, and Yoko Ono. It’s always a treat to have such a variety of voice talent on board. I had a good time trying to identify all the voices of each dog.
I’ve always had a soft spot for stop-motion animation, and it’s been awhile since my last favorite, Kubo and the 2 Strings, came out in 2017. After seeing Isle of Dogs, I recommend checking the YouTube video “ISLE OF DOGS | Making of: Puppets.” You will appreciate all the time and dedication that goes into stop-motion animation. Multiple dolls were created that had to have moveable limbs. Dozens of faces were created for each puppet for every facial expression and mouth movement. It’s a shame that stop-motion has been on the decline, compared to CGI (computer generated imagery).
As with most Wes Anderson films, we get a good amount of deadpan humor, and I very much enjoyed the dialogue. Even though the dogs are speaking English the whole time, it still felt like they were communicating together and helped with immersion. The attention to detail with dogs sneezing randomly is unlike anything I’ve ever seen. After Atari reaches Trash Island, he is stuck dealing with another problem that I won’t mention since it is a spoiler, but left me clenching my teeth the rest of the movie.
Of course the question on your mind is, “How does Wes Anderson manage to make a movie about Japanese culture, while avoiding the pitfalls of racial stereotypes like 2017 movies The Great Wall and Ghost in the Shell?” Other critics pointed out that the Japanese language in the movie is not subtitled, but the dogs “speak” English. Then when foreign exchange student Tracy Walker shows up, a voice was running in my head, “Oh no, will this be another white savior movie?” Or is it just another typical Wes Anderson movie?
This is what I was thinking about after watching the movie.
Isle of Dogs opened nationwide on April 13.
John can be reached at email@example.com.