Movie Review: Isle of Dogs

Movie Review: Isle of Dogs

Ben Wiche, Staff Writer

As a fan of Wes Anderson’s movies, I’ve always relished the chance to see one in the theatres. The only one I had seen before was Anderson’s first foray into stop-motion animation, the wonderful and energetic Fantastic Mister Fox. But that movie was adapted from the beautiful and captivating children’s novel by Roald Dahl. I wondered if Anderson could capture the spectacle and whimsy of Fox with a story of his own creation.

Well, the visuals are still astounding, showcasing a fantasy Tokyo (called Megasaki), a wonderfully messed up trash island, and a multitude of uniquely designed characters that stand up there with the best of Anderson’s, real-life or animated.

But the story left some things to be desired. It involves the futuristic Megasaki, where a terrible disease has infected the city’s dogs, causing the mayor Kobayashi to banish them to the Isle of Dogs. When the mayor’s ward Atari has his precious pup Spot exiled, Atari goes to the mysterious trash isle to rescue it. Along the way he meets a pile of English-speaking pooches, a witty American exchange student, and a teenage super-hacker. They help him to question those in authority and discover the true nature of Man’s Best Friend.

I have to admit, I’m not a dog person. Never owned one, don’t really care for them. So a whole lot of the dialogue did not resonate with me. I also wished that Anderson would have involved some of the depraved but lovable misanthropes that populate Anderson’s other movies.

Isle of Dogs employs more Asian actors than any other American film you’re likely to see this year, so you can’t fault it for lack of diversity. But with that, they also speak in Japanese, without subtitles. Why did Anderson forego them? I would suppose the subtitles might have distracted a bit from the visuals, but Isle of Dogs is largely a tribute to the anime and live-action films of Kurosawa, Miyazaki, and Sezuki, films that to be truly enjoyed have to be watched with subtitles. So if this was a decision of visuals made by Anderson, then it’s a little backhanded to the film he supposedly praises. And if not, I really don’t see what it adds. (I know that watching this movie would be vastly different if I could speak Japanese, so perhaps the lack of subtitles was meant to give an added meaning to Japanese viewers. If so… alright. I can kind of gel with that. But again, I don’t know for sure what Anderson’s reasoning was).

So the story as a whole was pretty average, a good excuse to show off various locales and set pieces. If you’re the type of person who can be entertained by a film’s visuals alone, or you just love your pets SO MUCH, then Isle of Dogs will work for you.