Leave the cannoli, take the movies

Review Blog

Isle of Dogs

Posted by Jonathan Leithold-Patt on April 3, 2018 at 2:35 PM


Wes Anderson


IDEA:  In the future, the Japanese city of Megasaki has banished all dogs to Trash Island. Defying the censorious government, a boy travels to the island to find his lost pet.

BLURB:  An aesthetic marvel and an exercise in cultural fetishism, Isle of Dogs vividly demonstrates Wes Anderson’s breathtaking artistry as well as his incorrigible ethnocentrism. That the film’s ornately designed, elaborately choreographed visuality is largely constructed from signifiers of Japanese culture makes the two qualities difficult to separate. Is this art of the Western colonizing gaze, or reverent pastiche that tacitly acknowledges the vexed identity of a hybrid, globalized world? Anderson’s brand of hermetically-sealed whimsy muddies the conclusion. Despite its echoing of Japan’s feudal and military pasts and its depiction of autocracy, Isle of Dogs severs itself from the historical world enough that it mostly registers as pure cinematic invention, a fastidious pop-art medley of multiple visual idioms that are reconfigured into something that exceeds national specificity. But if the film makes a case for itself aesthetically – and it must be said that Anderson’s baroque decoupage of split-screens, text, scrolling dollies, and practically cubist organization of space constitutes his most astonishing formal achievement yet – it is less forgivable in areas relating to representational politics. Most egregious is the linguistic divide that neatly cleaves characters into English-speaking audience surrogates and Japanese-speaking Others. It is within this scheme that a white American becomes the film’s driving agent of change. Superficial or not, Isle of Dogs is best appreciated as a dazzling display of modernist aesthetic precision, a surface value befitting a film where culture-as-ornamentation takes precedence.

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