Reviews: Isle Of Dogs

A Satire about Jingoism and a Love Letter to Dogs and Japanese Culture

I am a strong believer in the importance of political correctness. However I feel that occasionally political correctness reaches out and strangles media that is actually trying to support its goals. Such is the case with Isle of Dogs, a film that takes place in a future Japan where there is an outbreak of diseased canines that everyone fears will poison the human population.

Subtlety is a key word in Isle of Dogs repertoire. It manages to talk about a number of topical subjects yet it never departs from the plot to speak these subjects directly. The dogs in the movie represent illegal immigrants, either abused or scapegoated by political figures in attempt to secure power. Their disease, or in the case of their counterparts legal status, is very much a problem, but the government isn't interested in fixing the problem because they have secured power by demonizing this voiceless minority. Furthermore, the film goes out of its way to make its audience empathize with the dogs. They may not have the same language and perspective of humans, but they show traits of loyalty and respect to each other as well as a human child that comes to help them.

Some might wonder why the film chose Japan specifically but I think its because it has such a rich folklore of children going on journeys of self discovery and changing the dynamic world around them. The main character is a stand-in for Momotaro, the hero that developed inter-species friendships that helped him save the land. His devotion to his dog, Spots, and Chief's devotion to him bears a resemblance to Hachiko, a Japanese dog famous for its loyalty toward its owner. The protagonists faced off against Kobayashi, a Frankenstein of jingoist propoganda, possessing the controlling attitude of Shinzo Abe, the blatant hate speeches of Donald Trump, and the brutal ruthlessness of Vladimir Putin. Wes Anderson pits the idealism found in fantasy against the cynicism that currently controls our global powers.

Admittedly, the film embraces some of the sillier quirks of Japanese culture, but silliness in culture is a common staple in satire. Dr. Strangelove showed the silliness of American militarism and The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp showed the silliness of British stuffiness. A serious film about talking dogs would undermine itself. Never mind the film shows the various cool parts of Japanese culture, such as its advancements in science, its intricately prepared meals, and its exotic atmosphere. Isle of Dogs is a great example of political subtlety mixed in with a tale about a boy's love for dogs.