Fish and Cherries Productions

Creative content from a mad mind.


Reel Snippet – Isle of Dogs

Summary: Twenty years in the future in the Japanese year of Megasaki, an epidemic amongst dogs has forced Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura) to exile every canine in the city to a trash island off the coast. Several months later, his nephew Atari (Koyu Rankin) crash lands on the island to look for his dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). He is found by four formerly owned dogs — Rex (Edward Norton), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss (Bill Murray), and King (Bob Babalan) — and a stray named Chief (Bryan Cranston). Chief wants nothing to do with the little pilot, but a former show dog named Nutmeg (Scarlett Johansson) convinces him to help him so that he can experience the compassion he was denied on the streets. So the five dogs and the young boy begin their trek across the island in search of Spots, possibly getting a chance to fix things once and for all.

Review: Isle of Dogs is one weird movie, but overall I loved it. Wes Anderson goes back to the stop-motion style he used for Fantastic Mr. Fox and it definitely adds to the surreal atmosphere. Of course, don’t take the smooth and soothing animation to mean that this is for kids. There’s some pretty brutal violence on display, like a dog getting its ear ripped off and different types of mauling throughout the film. Then again, it’s much tamer than Watership Down, so I don’t see much harm it’ll do to youngsters.

This is all to say nothing of the absolutely out-there premise, which actually goes further than the summary implies. The weird train goes full steam ahead and doesn’t stop for nothing. There’s a subplot of Mayor Kobayashi trying to assassinate a scientist looking to cure the epidemic, squads of robot attack dogs, a dog named Oracle who can understand human TV shows, and a scientist named Yoko Ono played by the actual Yoko Ono… you can’t make this stuff up! Except someone did and I’m not sure whether to admire them or be very concerned.

I have to give credit to the relaxed and almost Old West atmosphere, which is one of the things I love about Wes Anderson’s movies. Scenes where Atari and the dogs walk across empty stretches of the island are accompanied by a contemplative sort of music that makes the journey feel long and desolate. The acting supports this as everyone sounds appropriately weary from such an ordeal, at least until someone gets fired up. It really does draw you into this odd, odd world.

…which brings me to the East Asian elephant in the room. The film has come under fire from various sources for being culturally insensitive or racist. Some say it’s guilty of cultural appropriation, others say it relies on stereotypes, and others still say that the Japanese setting is nothing more than window dressing. I’m not qualified to confirm any of those points, but something that did strike me is that numerous times in the film, there were numerous poems described as “haiku.” The thing is that haikus have a very specific structure — five syllables in the first line, seven in the next, and five after that — which none of these poems follow in either English or Japanese. It would have taken a quick google search to clear this up, so there’s no excuse for this kind of ignorance. If this was intentional or done as a joke… I don’t get it.

Despite this, I highly recommend Isle of Dogs, both in spite of and because of its weirdness. It’s certainly one of the more unique stories in the cinemas today, but it’s also got the silliness factor going for it. I mean, you’ve got all of these acclaimed, serious actors playing dogs! If there’s some stuff you can’t get past, like the weirdness or the racial issues, I suppose that’s fair, but I really think this is something special.

Though it does beg the question… why does this ludicrousness feel more grounded and realistic than the historical Death of Stalin?

Fun Tidbit: Here’s something cool: there’s an actual Isle of Dogs located in east London between Greenwich, Tower Hamlets, Newham, and Southwark. However, it is not populated by dogs and in fact, no one can remember how it got its name.

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