Film Review: Isle of Dogs (2018)
Buzzfeed should really hire me to watch trash movies and review them so you don't have to. Like I'm willing to do the God's work and watch Isle of Dogs so you don't have to. And that's exactly what I did. Merriam-Webster should put a screenshot of this movie next to their definition of cultural appropriation because this movie personified that like no fucking other. Is it cute? Sure. It’s Wes Anderson so of course it’ll look good, but that doesn’t mean it’s gonna actually be any good. I had really sour expectations and was ready to cut someone going into the theater and the fact that I almost fell asleep not even halfway through should really tell you something.
Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs, with its extremely mayo-studded cast, is set in the near-future, fictional town of Megasaki (really? Megasaki?). Led by the stereotypical Fu Manchu-esque mayor, the town has banned all dogs to the isolated Trash Island, because they believe the dogs will destroy them. Sound familiar? Ugh.
The mayor’s nephew, Atari (really? Atari?) leaves Megasaki to rescue his guard dog Spots. He lands on Trash Island, befriends a pack of hella American dogs to help him find Spots, and along the way, other random crap unfolds. Throw in a White Savior in the form of Greta Gerwig’s voice, and there you have it. That’s Isle of Dogs for you.
Look, the movie’s not awful because of the story. The story is cute and mediocre at best. The movie is awful because Anderson so blatantly decided that he would pluck out parts of HIS idea of Japan, which were as Buzzfeed's Alison Willmore points out: “taiko drummers, anime, Hokusai, sumo, kabuki, haiku, cherry blossoms, and a mushroom cloud (!)” And at the same time, he decided that all the sympathetic characters (the dogs + Greta Gerwig) would be American and speak English and make all the actual Japanese characters unheard or evil. It is so, so telling that Anderson decided to NOT subtitle any of the Japanese spoken by the human characters, despite trying to make a “Japanese-esque” movie. It's a fucked up kind of yellow peril, making the audience sympathize with the English-speaking Americanized dogs over the Japanese human characters, topped with a Mayor Fu Manchu.
TEXTBOOK! ORIENTALISM! TEXTBOOK! CULTURAL! APPROPRIATION!
What’s worse to me is not even that this movie exists now, but that it’s being heralded by critics and festivals as another great Wes Anderson classic. Which, is not wrong, per se, given his history as a White Cultural Tourist. But really though, people are seriously out here completely dismissing the fact that this movie is so badly appropriated and deciding that it’s still a good movie! It honestly pisses me off so much that people don’t deem orientalism or cultural appropriation of Asian culture as bad enough to NOT cough up $17 for a movie ticket. Like you literally could’ve ordered two Panda Express meals and at least fed yourself instead of falling asleep halfway through Isle of Dogs and giving it a 92% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Anyways, don’t watch Isle of Dogs. Don’t support this trash movie. If you really want to see a heartwarming movie about dogs taking back what’s theirs, go see the super amazing Pom Poko, which is an ACTUAL Japanese movie and of course, by Studio Ghibli. It’s about raccoon dogs who use Japanese mythology and folklore to fight back against industrialization in a growing modernist world. You’re welcome.