Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs ★★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

i loved so much about this film but MAN--the cultural appropriation talk in certain reviews is definitely warranted.

changing a few things in the conceptual stage of making this would've fixed so much. this story is not inherently japanese: there is no reason to set the story here. while i understand the desire for a language barrier in order to force the audience to approach the story from the dogs' point of view, this could have been achieved without using an actual culture, especially one that's already so fetishized in western media. the story already takes place in a fictional future--why couldn't the culture of the story be completely fictional or why couldn't the language barrier be done with a more sophisticated version of charlie brown's teacher's garbled voice?

japan is an aesthetic for anderson, beautifully rendered, but--as others more equipped to delve deeper have said--not with the nuanced understanding that comes with a personal, experienced knowledge of the cultural history. i came into the film having heard about the insensitive use of mushroom cloud imagery, but i was not expecting the scene where atari is in the rows of seats with the flash, suddenly surrounded by skeletons. until that scene, i had suspected that the use of mushroom clouds was an unfortunate oversight born of ignorance; this, however, seemed to be a deliberate reference and not made with the careful hand used to holding that sensitive collective memory.

and as a last couple points
- a film about an east asian society hating dogs is only playing to gross stereotypes--another reason why this should've taken place elsewhere.
- there is absolutely zero reason why tracy had to be a white american foreign exchange student, and that racial dynamic made her aggressive confrontation with the grieving japanese scientist at the bar supremely uncomfortable. (also: white savior trope.)

i say all this because i do believe that you should be able to criticize the things you love--and i did love the rest of it. the stop-motion and more traditional animation was gorgeous without losing a bit of that unique andersonian tone in the dialogue and framing. chief and atari's relationship was fascinating to watch evolve, and the variety of personalities and quirks they all had was so endearing and true to just--how dogs are! it made me so, so soft (especially as someone who on the way to the theater was literally clawing at the sides of their face because they couldn't pet the st bernard across the street). and the overall structure of the narrative works so well with the parallels between the human society, the dogs left on the island, and the dogs left behind from the lab--they hate the Other from false hearsay, rumors that incorrectly paint them as disease-carrying health risks or vicious cannibals, when the Other is really a victim of violence. (themes of othering in this film is deeply ironic given the problem of appropriation, of course.)

all in all: so so much good, so so much that should've been done differently. i still loved it. so it goes.

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