I love Wes Anderson. I love stop motion. The irony that I have never seen Fantastic Mr. Fox has just now hit me. Yet in the case of Isle of Dogs, the heaviness of the subject matter the trailer portrayed made me wary. I had previously seen three Wes Anderson films and they all were colorful with the majority of elements containing hope and fun to them. The films I saw, Moonrise Kingdom, The Grand Budapest Hotel, and The Darjeeling Limited, took place in harsh realities, but the optimism of a better future seemed to outweigh the marginally downtrodden surroundings. Isle of Dogs looked like a reverse of this based on the trailer.
Despite me trepidations, I was not about to miss this opportunity. I mean, who wants to see a director make the same movie over and over again? Not I. And while it was still blatantly a Wes Anderson project, it felt fresh, looked humongous, and retained the optimism with a tone of caution this time. After I saw it, I spent the rest of the day cutting it open for a look at its insides, trying to examine every organ, every cell of what it could mean. The fact that I spent a day of my life contemplating how I could interpret a film like this to the point of considering seeing it twice to get the full experience, I believe qualifies Isle of Dogs to receive praise from me. Yes, I liked it a ton.
The film takes place “20 years in the future” in a fictional Japanese metropolis called Megasaki City. Very clever, Mr. Anderson, never specifying the film’s exact setting year thus adding timelessness to the story. Anyway, there is an epidemic of Dog Flu in Megasaki City causing the Mayor Kobayashi to issue an executive order removing and relocating all dogs to an abandoned, literal garbage dump of an island known as Trash Island. When the twelve year-old ward of Mayor Kobayashi comes to the island to rescue his former bodyguard dog, Spots, a domino effect ensues thus igniting the political agenda of Mayor Kobayashi, the agenda of the scientists attempting to provide the cure, the skepticism of the conspiracy theorists, and the survival instincts of the victimized canines. Who knew that a product this good could be born from an idea that insane?
Usually, I would say that the Wes Anderson style is akin to Stanley Kubrick on cocaine. And here, the fast pace remained, the tracking shots remained, and the eccentricity remained. But I believe what made this film feel like a fresh take on the Wes Anderson formula was the hugeness of its environment. I don’t just mean that the stop motion animation looked like its world went as far as our own horizon (although it was truly breathtaking); but also the battles within it. The setting very much resembles the cutthroat nature of the political world (in general, not just within the last ten years). The story might be limited to the welfare of our four-legged friends, but the heart of it beats out its chest. The consequences of each character feel more real than ever and while I knew there would more than likely be a happy ending, it felt like the movie’s journey to get there was more dangerous than any other movie by these filmmakers.
Isle of Dogs does not subtitle the Japanese dialogue for the English speaking audience, limiting the interpretation to translators. This adds to the realism of understanding the story’s direction; we the audience have to rely on the translators to tell us what the people in power are saying. We have no choice but to take their word for it. There’s also a common motif throughout the film among the dogs in the simple question, “Did you hear the rumor about…?”. The rumors that follow are usually proven to be misleading somehow. Both of these elements to the film got me thinking of social media. I know it’s bizarre but read me out. Social media, for better or worse, is a tool for gossip. It is a tool to spread the word about anything at a pace often too fast for the correct facts to keep up. Then this got me thinking about how fast false information can spread and how scarily often it spreads because the facts are intentionally kept from the masses. For me, the film is about propaganda, and Wes Anderson was the perfect director to both satirize and symbolize this problem in the world.
I am sure, like usual, there is room for my interpretation to be wrong and am interested in hearing what others see in this film. But the beauty of it is even if you don’t see anything deeper than dogs surviving in a fictionalized Japan, it is still an exceptional combination of energized, harsh, funny, bleak, and sentimental. The trailer gives an accurate representation of what the experience of watching this film is like, so if you see it and decide that Isle of Dogs looks up your alley, it probably is.