Wes Anderson’s newest film, “Isle of Dogs,” was released in select theaters on March 23 and worldwide on April 13. Although it has gotten a lot of mixed opinions, it has grossed over 39 million worldwide.
In a futuristic, fictional Japanese city, called Megasaki City, all dogs have contracted dog flu and shout fever, and the people of the city fear that people will start contracting the disease. To fix the problem, all dogs have been quarantined on a uninhabited garbage dump island, called Trash Island, where they struggle to survive. A group of domesticated dogs, and one stray, Chief (Bryan Cranston) see the 12-year-old ward of the mayor, Atari (Koyu Rankin) crash onto Trash Island. Together, the dogs help Atari, find his bodyguard dog, Spots, on the island and face the corrupt Japanese government.
Anderson’s newest film keeps his iconic style, but not to the extent of his other films, resulting in “Isle of Dogs” feeling lackluster in comparison to Anderson’s past filmography. “Isle of Dogs” shows a vivid and beautiful world, filmed in a way that feels both hyper realistic and completely theatrical at the same time. The film does a fantastic job displaying a futuristic Japan, exemplifying their culture at every moment possible with everything from sumo wrestling to taiko drumming to sushi making. This proves to be problematic as Anderson goes a bit too far and ends up depicting the Western idea of what Japan is.
The comedy is perfectly timed with a mixture of funny one liners and visual humor. The humor often pokes fun at how the main characters are dogs. For example, Scarlett Johansson’s character, Nutmeg, is a show dog, and she does tricks often in the film. There is also a tinge of violence and dark humor that is covered up by more light humor. Every time there is a dangerous fight, all that is shown is a white dust cloud which significantly decreases the violence. Romance is also subject to comedy in “Isle of Dogs.” Like with Anderson’s 2012 film, “Moonrise Kingdom,” the film uses children as a subject of romance and that, in itself, adds humor. Atari and the foreign exchange student, Tracy, have a small romantic arc in which Tracy admires Atari from afar and somewhat obsesses over him.
A lot of fans and critics are divided on their opinions about “Isle of Dogs.” According to some, the movie adheres to racial stereotypes. The Japanese people speak their native language, often with no subtitles whatsoever. This orientalizes Japan. The opposite argument discusses how Anderson’s choice was a part of his style. He needed the Japanese to speak Japanese because it gave viewers a sense of hyperrealism.
Structurally, the plot is simple, but entertaining. There are some minor issues that could have been fixed by cutting the amount of characters. Most of the characters take very minor roles, but are introduced in a way that makes them seem more important than they end up being in the film. For example, the main character, Chief, has a ragtag group of mutts in the beginning of the film, and it seems like they’ll have significance later, but they don’t. Although this group of dogs is in the movie for about as long as Chief is, they are brushed aside in favor of other characters. This point of identification is not only difficult, but also frustrating to decipher. Although Atari and Chief are the main characters, the side characters switch so often, viewers can’t keep up.
Overall, “Isle of Dogs” has a lot of controversy around it, but, as a whole, it is entertaining. Wes Anderson fans might be able to see past the film’s issues, but that doesn’t mean the issues aren’t there.