08 May 2018

"Isle of Dogs"

Wes Anderson's latest film played a supporting role in the final exam for my Sales & Leasing class where I characterized it as a "blockbuster." Well, that isn't exactly the case since Isle of Dogs has grossed just north of $26 million in the US. Regardless of the extent of its box office success, Isle of Dogs is a well-done film. (See my comments about Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel here.)

A few who want to signal their post-colonial virtue have criticized Isle of Dogs for one reason or another. I'll take the comments of Japanese-born Moeko Fujii here as sufficient evidence that the film is example of neither cultural appropriation (even assuming that's a bad thing) nor the White Savior Complex.

If neither of those shibboleths, then what is Isle of Dogs? To delve deeply one would need to be more familiar with Japanese culture and mythology than me so I'll merely observe two things that stood out to me. First, use of stop-motion figures. We don't see many examples of this form in the era of digital SFX so I enjoyed seeing Anderson put stop-motion to use. Although some of Anderson's films have been criticized for being a bit too precious, I didn't see an over-commitment to style in using this form in this film.

Second, the story of Isle of Dogs uses the broad quest theme to frame its narrative. But at the end of young orphan Atari Kobayashi's quest to recover his banished dog Spots an unusual turn of events takes place: Atari pays honor to his uncle, the nefarious mayor of Megasaki, for taking him in after his parents died, and this notwithstanding it was his uncle's venal plot to banish Spots and all the other dogs of Megasaki.

The honor young Atari pays to his uncle contrasts with most quest stories where the victorious underdog obtains his sought-for goal and his nemesis is destroyed. Even the anti-quest of the Lord of the Rings trilogy ends with the destruction of the One Ring. While I won't presume to attribute this display of familial honor to Japanese culture, I found it a refreshing contrast to the banal super-human fare that dominates current Hollywood blockbusters.

So, in a word, I very much appreciated Isle of Dogs and commend it to my readers' attention.

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