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Review: Isle of Dogs

— by BEV QUESTAD —

Up for Best Animated Film on all the award lists, just about everything about this creative film is a winner. From the drumbeat score, to the combination of animation technology strategies used to get adorable, realistic dogs, to the great story about compassion and seeing the truth, (coincidentally analogous to current affairs), this gripping, adorable film is a winner – except for one embarrassing detail.

The soundtrack of thumping drums and sweet, melancholy songs pushes the story with variations of urgency and despair. All the dogs have been banished to Trash Island because the mayor of their town is in league with cats. He has secretly had the dogs infected with a lethal dog flu and has had fleas dumped out into the community to further incriminate the dogs as beasts who spread disease and pestilence. He creates fear in his constituents to gain increasing amounts of executive control.

The film also brilliantly incorporates a combination of animation techniques that bring the beautifully haired dogs to life. A crew of seventy puppet-makers painstakingly took about 16 weeks to make each of the major dogs, with about 3,000 created in total.

Seeing the title paralleled with Japanese script and being that it is set in Japan, there was one very odd situation. The heroine is a curly-headed blond exchange student from the US who speaks out against the mayor to the Japanese citizens. She is trying to get them to see the truth, as if she is the only person in this Japanese city who is smart enough to know it. In addition, all the Japanese dialogue has no sub-titles, as if what the Japanese people in the film are saying is irrelevant.

There is a boy who stars in the film, also. He is Japanese, but there are no subtitles for his words. He is the only master who comes looking for his confiscated dog. He has a compassionate heart. However, he is also the ward of the very mayor who is perpetrating all the trouble for the poor dogs.

Now we do understand that we are viewing this as a group privy to the dog’s side of the story. The dogs cannot understand human speech. But this gets Anderson into some trouble because the skinny girl from Ohio, who bravely exclaims to the Japanese that their mayor is dishonest and a murderous fraud, does not speak in Japanese to her Japanese audience. We know she speaks it beautifully, because she uses it early on (without subtitles – and the dogs aren’t there), so there is this confusion about language. Why does Wes Anderson, writer/director, allow her to speak in English (to Japanese people), thereby allowing us to understand her, and not the boy?

There is just an inescapable demeaning of Japanese culture and heritage with a little American girl cast as the heroine for the Japanese town and the little Japanese boy’s dialogue not subtitled. A double-standard?

This entire film could have been better if “Isle of Dogs” was set in a fabricated country. It would have avoided humiliating an entire culture and been an undisputed classic 10/10 if that had been the case. I’m wondering what the voters for the Oscars and Golden Globes Award will decide is more important, a fabulously touching and creative animated film or cultural sensitivity?


Credits
Directed by Wes Anderson
Produced by Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson
Screenplay by Wes Anderson
Story by Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura
Voices: Bryan Cranston, Edward Norton, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Bob Balaban, Kunichi Nomura, Ken Watanabe, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Fisher Stevens, Harvey Keitel, Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson, Tilda Swinton and F. Murray Abraham
Narrated by Courtney B. Vance
Music by Alexandre Desplat
Cinematography: Tristan Oliver
Edited by Ralph Foster and Edward Bursch
Production: Studio Babelsberg, Indian Paintbrush, and American Empirical Pictures
Distributed by Fox Searchlight Pictures

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