When I was in one of film classes and we learned about how the auteur theory—a singular person who controls every aspect of the creative work, the true author of the film. Some famous examples include: Woody Allen, Steven Spielberg, and Martin Scorsese. When you see a film by one of those directors, you know exactly what kind of movie it will be. The first name that came to mind when I was in the film class was Wes Anderson. He has such a specific way of filming and storytelling that you know he directed a film without first being told. He also casts his films with many of the same people, another aspect in the auteur theory.
The first movie of his that I ever saw was The Royal Tenenbaums. I don’t remember how old I was but I instantly loved it. It was strange and quirky with all these insane characters that you loved, but they also kind of drove you nuts. My favorite of his films is probably Moonrise Kingdom, the love story between two tweens on an island off the coast of New England. Every one of his movies have vastly different plots, but they all have that Wes Anderson aesthetic.
All of this is no different with his newest film, Isle of Dogs. Like his 2009 film, Fantastic Mr. Fox, Dogs is an epic stop-motion tale with talking animals. It is about a young Japanese boy in search of his dog on a trash island where all dogs have been banished to due to an illness breakout. The group of alpha dogs on the island—voiced by Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, and Bob Balaban—were my favorite. How they interact with each other and with the boy, Atari, is so brilliant. With a combination of English and Japanese voices, Anderson tells this story with true deadpan humor and, I think, obvious appreciation for Japanese culture.
If you couldn’t tell, I’m not Japanese. I have never been to Japan, or anywhere in Asia for that matter. Dogs has received quite a lot of great reviews—it currently holds a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes—but it also faced some critics arguing that the film is stereotyping and is a victim of cultural appropriation. To me (once again, not Japanese), I looked at it as more of a celebration and appreciation of the culture. I think it was an interesting idea to find more imaginative ways to get the point across of what the Japanese characters were saying than just putting subtitles at the bottom of the screen. A BuzzFeed writer Allison Willmore wrote, “in the wake of Isle of Dogs’ opening weekend, there were multiple headlines wondering whether the film was an act of appropriation or homage. But the question is rhetorical — the two aren’t mutually exclusive, and the former is not automatically off the table just because the creator’s intent was the latter.” In the end, this is a fun, odd, and incredibly creative movie that holds no ill intention.
Have you seen the movie yet? Let me know what you think!