Twenty years into the future, Megasaki City, Japan is facing an outbreak of dogs being ridden with diseases. Mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura), a cat owner, issues a law deporting every single dog in the city to Trash Island, which became known as the Isle of Dogs. The Mayor’s nephew, Atari (Koyu Rankin), hijacks a plane and flies to the Isle of Dogs to find his dog Spots (Liev Schreiber). He finds and befriends a pack of five alpha dogs: Chief (Bryan Cranston), who’s a stray, and the other four who were once domesticated: Rex (Edward Norton), Duke (Jeff Goldblum), Boss, (Bill Murray), & King (Bob Balaban).
The adventure this cast of characters go on is a fun, heartwarming one; it’s filled with moments of vulnerability and more importantly, love. There are moments of stillness where the score (by Alexandre Desplat) just takes control of the scene and creates a beautiful moment. Without even realizing it, with this adventure you will learn how much power rumors and secrets have on people, as well as how democracy doesn’t seem to always be the best solution to everything. Anderson also explores the term ‘man’s best friend’ and shows how exactly a dog can become a best friend. If you own or have ever owned a dog, you’re more than likely going to walk out of the theater to go give your dog the love and affection they deserve.
There’s a political commentary on this film and the way it is handled is rather clever. When we’re not following Atari, we’re focused on a small school organization that arranges protests against the Mayor, are ‘pro-dog’, and support the Science candidate for mayor, Prof. Watanabe (Akira Ito). The most outspoken member of the group is the foreign exchange student Tracey Walker (Greta Gerwig) who has a conspiracy theory on how corrupt Mayor Kobayashi and his affiliates are. It’s an intelligent allegory on the age-old dispute of ‘cats vs dogs’ by making it a political dispute, involving xenophobic rhetoric by the Mayor and his affiliates, in order to manipulate the masses and crush any opposition in their way.
For a film set in Japan, it makes sense that Anderson would look to Japanese cinema for inspiration and there’s a lot of it. Most of the influences come from Akira Kurosawa films such as Seven Samurai, in introducing the pack of dogs we follow. Then there’s Dodes’ka-den, a story about a group of misfits living in a landfill like Trash Island. Toshiro Mifune, an incredible actor and long-time friend of Kurosawa, was the direct inspiration for Mayor Kobayashi. Those are but a few Kurosawa references injected into the film. There’s even a little of bit of Hayao Miyazaki, specifically in Porco Rosso, a film about a man turned pig who so happens to be an aircraft pilot.
It’s impossible not to mention the films gorgeous animation created by several artist and designers. The film has been accused of cultural appropriation and I wouldn’t disagree with it, but I don’t believe I’m the best person to speak on it. However, there is the case of one character: Major Domo, an affiliate of Mayor Kobayashi and a caricature of a Japanese villain as well.
If you aren’t into Wes Anderson films, then you probably won’t care for this one as it still contains his style of deadpan comedy, centered framing, and a look into one’s youth. However, this time he surrounds his style with different themes that we aren’t used to seeing from him. He still manages to do something new with what he always does and that makes for a great film for many to enjoy, especially dog owners.