Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs

Wes Anderson adds another to his pantheon of beautifully crafted movies. Isle of Dogs, like his earlier Fantastic Mr. Fox, is a stop-motion animated film. The detail of the animation is breathtaking. The landscapes, the action, the dogs, even the food, are meticulously rendered.

The story takes place in the fictional city of Megasaki, Japan, about 20 years in the future. Dog flu has broken out among the canine population, and Mayor Kobayashi proclaims that all dogs will be banished to Trash Island. His rhetoric against dogs is reminiscent of the way that people have been vilified in history: Hitler turning German sentiment against the Jews, Americans sending their fellow citizens to Japanese internment camps, and some of the arguments against immigrants in the U.S. today. As the narration explains, “brains have been washed, wheels have been greased, fear has been mongered.”

The polluted, desolate, disease-ridden Trash Island suggests a post-war Nagasaki or Hiroshima. The dogs are thrown away like trash and left to fend for themselves.

Meanwhile, the mayor’s 12-year-old nephew Atari sets out to find his dog Spots on Trash Island.

Anderson borrows or pays homage to a number of Japanese art forms—drumming, woodblock prints, and haiku, to name a few. There’s a fine line between appropriation and appreciation of a different culture, and Anderson sometimes crosses that line. His characters sometimes turn into caricatures.

He also includes an odd “white savior” character—an American high school exchange student named Tracy. She alone seems able to pierce the veil of lies to see that the dogs are being treated unfairly—perhaps, in part, because while the dogs’ barks have all been “translated” to English, the human Japanese characters all speak Japanese. The only way non-Japanese viewers can know what is happening in the human world is through translators or other clever translation devices. Tracy can give a big speech in English, allowing the transmission of a bunch of important information to the viewer.

When Dr. Watanabe, the science party candidate, finds a cure for dog flu, the mayor ignores the evidence that the disease is curable, instead continuing to spread false information.

The way information is disseminated is a strong theme in the film. Whether it is Mayor Kobayashi’s misinformation campaign, or the rumors that the dogs whisper among themselves, no one seems to have the facts on which to to hang their convictions. Gossip takes on the sheen of truth and is eagerly spread.

In the age of Facebook and election meddling, this is a relevant issue. But it’s certainly not a modern problem. The apostle James warned early believers: “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire” (James 3:5-6). The tongue can be a powerful weapon, and words can change the course of a life or the course of history.

Isle of Dogs is a visual wonder, full of interesting things to look at and think about.

Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and violent images; this animation is not for younger children. On disc now. (FOX Searchlight)

About the Author

Kristy Quist is Tuned In editor for The Banner and a member of Neland Ave. CRC in Grand Rapids, Mich.

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Comments

This review says, “Mayor Kobayashi proclaims that all dogs will be banished to Trash Island. His rhetoric against dogs is reminiscent of the way that people have been vilified in history: Hitler turning German sentiment against the Jews, Americans sending their fellow citizens to Japanese internment camps, and some of the arguments against immigrants in the U.S. today."

I don't think advocating for immigration regulation and control is evil and certainly not anywhere near the two atrocities cited. I felt strong emotions when I visited Manzanar, a Japanese internment camp in Owens Valley, CA. I don't feel the same emotion about immigration control.

This may not be the place to discuss "arguments against immigrants", but the movie review may not have been, either, and since it was brought up... I think it would be great if we could let everyone into the U.S. (or Canada) who wanted to move in, although there are some that I wouldn't want in the country or my house for safety and security reasons. This isn't an argument against immigrants, although that is the way that open borders advocates in and out of the CRC often frame it.

As a volunteer visiting lecturer in Kenya I was frequentlly approached by students at the university who wanted me to help them get into the U.S. My standard reply was, "I'd love to have you come but if we took in everyone who wanted to come, the U.S. would soon be in much worse shape than Kenya. I'm helping you get an education so you can help make your country a better place to live." That wasn't bigotry. I loved those people and still correspond with some of them. It was practical reality.

I strongly agree with this part of the review:

The way information is disseminated is a strong theme in the film. Whether it is Mayor Kobayashi’s misinformation campaign, or the rumors that the dogs whisper among themselves, no one seems to have the facts on which to to hang their convictions. Gossip takes on the sheen of truth and is eagerly spread.

In the age of Facebook and election meddling, this is a relevant issue. But it’s certainly not a modern problem. The apostle James warned early believers: “Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire” (James 3:5-6). The tongue can be a powerful weapon, and words can change the course of a life or the course of history."

There is a lot of misinformation being spread. Candidates for office in the U.S. primaries are frequently misrepresenting or distorting the views and statements of opponents and current office holders. I hope that The Banner and statements from CRCNA leaders will carefully and honestly report the beliefs and understandings of those with whom they disagree.

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