Wes Anderson’s ninth feature film, and second stop-motion feature, is set twenty years in the future in the fictional, retro-futuristic city of Megasaki. Mayor Kobayashi, voiced by Kunichi Nomura who is also a co-writer and the casting director for the film, has banished all canines to Trash Island in the wake of a widespread dog flu. The story follows a boy’s adventure to this trash-ridden wasteland to find his beloved dog Spots (Liev Schreiber).
With almost every scene in the film in a different location, over 240 meticulous sets ended up being created. Sets range from 6-8 meters long with the largest being around 16 meters in length. The attention to detail is astounding, with all sets beginning as concept art, evolving into foam core models and finally as the sets you see on screen. Traditional carpentry and paint was used for some of the sets. Other sets had to be organically made by a crew of set dressers due to trash being the majority of their makeup. Overall, the type of stop-motion animation used in the movie is breathtaking because of the dedication of Anderson’s team making every single micro-movement (i.e. characters’ breathing and tears) come to life in front of you.
There have been several outspoken critics of Anderson’s film that say it could be seen as disrespectful toward Japanese culture. They have mentioned how the main pack of dogs in the movie are voiced by notable, American actors. Another sticking point for critics has been the lack of subtitles for Japanese speaking characters. Also, the different types of translation methods used by American characters throughout the film has been mentioned. In contrast to these critical viewers, Moeko Fujii expresses in her commentary for “The New Yorker”, titled “What ‘Isle of Dogs’ Gets Right About Japan”, that it’s “a carefully considered artistic choice” by Anderson. Anderson had a large number of Japanese people involved in the making of the film and this is more than evident with all of the nuances in it. Fujii writes about the film: “It shows the seams of translation, demarcates a space that is accessible—and funny—only to Japanese viewers.”
Music plays a large role in the film much like it does in all of Anderson’s previous projects. Giving a nod to the work of Akira Kurosawa, Anderson uses “Kanbei & Katsushiro Kikuchiyo’s Mambo” from “Seven Samurai” and “Kosame No Oka” from “Drunken Angel”. Also, as Atari (Koyu Rankin) and pack leader Chief (Bryan Cranston) cross endless hills of garbage they are aptly accompanied by the song “I Won’t Hurt You” by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. The soft lyrics, quiet guitar and what sounds like a heartbeat throughout, give these scenes the true Anderson touch.
This may not be Wes Anderson’s best feature film, but it is superior to his only other stop-motion project, “Fantastic Mr. Fox”. Come for the dazzling, extraordinary sets, and stay for the mastery of storytelling and handling of characters that can only be seen by writer-director Wes Anderson. “Isle of Dogs” is currently playing at The Fargo Theatre and showtimes can be found at their website.