It’s hard to articulate just why Isle of Dogs came up short for me. The backlash regarding the translation/non-translation dynamic of the Japanese dialogue is worth contemplating, though since this is a polemic from the eyes of Othered victims, the language barrier seems a natural obstacle that would crop up (just as, you know, dogs don’t understand English and we don’t understand their barking). Greta Gerwig’s exchange student partakes in the white saviour tropes we all know, but then again, they’re not fully realized when you see that she doesn’t actually do anything. Atari accomplishes way more than she does on Trash Island, while she’s just there as a dissenting voice for the Megasaki side.
I think I’m more put off by how easily Anderson assumes an authoritative voice with regards to ethnocentric bigotry and its victims. I get that the intentions are good, and that he wants to combat virulent xenophobia and spread a message of empathy, yet a story like this coming from a middle-aged white American man is a bit… rich. And so these nice intentions get refracted in this prism of privilege, and dissipate outward to reveal a work that is agreeably quirky, handsomely mounted, and sorely lacking in authenticity. This also extends to his approximation of a futuristic Japan, which itself is a Westerner’s simulacrum of that culture, built solely on fetishistic, broadly recognizable iconography that has fuelled stereotypical depictions of the country for generations. It’s almost as if Anderson is building an anti-xenophobic screed by taking pictures from a xenophobe’s handbook, and thinking there is nothing wrong in doing so.
I did like the deadpan humour, and the intricacies of the storytelling, which requires an active engagement with the material. On a more basic level, the human and dog relationships are lovely and poignant, and seeing Atari and the dogs cry tears for each other was very touching. Look, I’m a dog lover, so this shit is always going to be my Kryptonite. I could look at pictures of cute dogs all day and not tire of it. I’m sad, however, that this doggo-centric flick was built on such unstable infrastructure, and didn’t win me over like I hoped it would. Still think Wes is a great filmmaker, and I’m never going to tire of his singular aesthetic. But this is the first film of his that I wouldn’t necessarily want to watch again anytime soon.