Isle of Dogs (film)

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Isle of Dogs
IsleOfDogsFirstLook.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byWes Anderson
Produced by
Screenplay byWes Anderson
Story by
Starring
Music byAlexandre Desplat
CinematographyTristan Oliver
Edited by
  • Ralph Foster
  • Edward Bursch
Production
company
Distributed byFox Searchlight Pictures
Release date
  • February 15, 2018 (2018-02-15) (Berlin)
  • March 23, 2018 (2018-03-23) (United States)
  • May 10, 2018 (2018-05-10) (Germany)
Running time
101 minutes[1]
Country
LanguageEnglish[1]
Box office$64.2 million[6]

Isle of Dogs (Japanese: 犬ヶ島, Hepburn: Inugashima) is a 2018 stop-motion science-fiction comedy-drama adult animated film written, produced, and directed by Wes Anderson. Set in a dystopian near-future Japan, the story follows a pack of banished dogs, led by street dog Chief (Bryan Cranston), who helps a young boy named Atari (Koyu Rankin) search for his own dog after the species is banished to an island following the outbreak of a canine flu. The film's ensemble voice cast also includes Edward Norton, Liev Schreiber, Bill Murray, Bob Balaban, Jeff Goldblum, Scarlett Johansson, Kunichi Nomura, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe, Akira Ito, Greta Gerwig, Akira Takayama, Frances McDormand, F. Murray Abraham, Courtney B. Vance, Yojiro Noda, Fisher Stevens, Mari Natsuki, Nijiro Murakami, Yoko Ono, Harvey Keitel, and Frank Wood.

A US–German co-production, Isle of Dogs was produced by Indian Paintbrush and Anderson's own production company, American Empirical Pictures, in association with Studio Babelsberg; it was filmed in the United Kingdom. The film opened the 68th Berlin International Film Festival, where Anderson was awarded the Silver Bear for Best Director. It was given a limited release in the United States on March 23, 2018, by Fox Searchlight Pictures, and went on wide release on April 13. It has grossed over $64 million worldwide, and received praise for its animation, story, and deadpan humor. A manga adaptation of the film by Minetarō Mochizuki was published in 2018, beginning with the May 24 issue of Weekly Morning.[7][8] The film received nominations at the 76th Golden Globe Awards, 72nd British Academy Film Awards, and two nominations at the 91st Academy Awards, for Best Animated Feature Film and Best Original Score.

Plot[edit]

In a futuristic Japan, an outbreak of canine influenza spreads throughout the (fictitious) city of Megasaki with the risk of becoming contagious to humans. The city's authoritarian mayor, Kenji Kobayashi, ratifies an official decree banishing all dogs to Trash Island, which is immediately approved despite the insistence of Professor Watanabe, the mayor's political opponent, who states he is close to creating a cure for the dog flu. The first canine deported from the city is a white and black-spotted dog named Spots Kobayashi, that served as the bodyguard dog of 12-year-old orphan Atari Kobayashi, the mayor's distant nephew and ward.

Six months later, Atari hijacks a plane and flies it to Trash Island (now nicknamed "Isle of Dogs") to search for Spots. After crash-landing, Atari is rescued by a dog pack led by an all-black canine named Chief, a lifelong stray. With their help, Atari first finds a locked cage that presumably contains Spots' skeleton, but learns that it is not him. They then fend off a rescue team sent by Mayor Kobayashi to retrieve Atari. Atari decides to continue his search for Spots, and the pack decides to help him, but Chief declines because of his refusal to have a human "master". He is then convinced by Nutmeg, a female ex-show dog, to help the boy out of obligation. The pack seeks advice from sage-like dogs Jupiter and Oracle, that surmise that Spots might be held captive by an isolated tribe of dogs rumored to be cannibals.

Meanwhile, Watanabe finally develops a successful serum and shows the results to Kobayashi, who dismisses the results and refuses to lift the dog ban. The professor objects, only to be put under house arrest and killed by a piece of poisoned sushi by orders of the mayor's hatchet man, Major Domo. Tracy Walker, an American exchange student and member of a pro-dog activist group, suspects a conspiracy and begins to investigate. Mayor Kobayashi and his political party are revealed to be actually responsible for the dog flu outbreak, seeking to eliminate the dogs as Kobayashi's cat-loving ancestors tried to do 1,000 years ago, who were foiled by a legendary samurai boy who closely resembled Atari.

During their journey, Chief and Atari are separated from the others. Atari gives Chief a bath, revealing his white and black-spotted coat, and that he bears a striking resemblance to Spots. The two finally begin to bond and rejoin the rest of the pack, but are ambushed by another rescue team. Spots then arrives with the dog tribe and they help Atari's group to escape. Spots confirms that he is Chief's older brother and that he was rescued by the dog tribe, which are former test subjects from a secret lab that was abandoned after a tsunami. Spots became their leader and mated with a female tribe member named Peppermint, which is pregnant with their first litter. Because of these circumstances, Spots requests for Atari to transfer his protection duties to Chief; both Atari and Chief accept. An owl later brings word that Kobayashi has rounded up all the exiled dogs and plans to exterminate them with poison gas.

Tracy confronts Watanabe's closest colleague Yoko Ono, who confirms Tracy's conspiracy theories and gives her the last vial of the serum. At his re-election ceremony, Mayor Kobayashi prepares to give the extermination order, when Tracy presents her evidence of his corruption. Kobayashi then revokes her transfer license, meaning that Tracy would no longer be allowed to study as a transfer student, and that she would depart on a flight back to her hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio. Atari and the dogs soon arrive, and confirm the serum works by testing it on Chief and curing him. Atari addresses the crowd and recites a haiku he wrote and dedicated to Kobayashi, rekindling the sympathy that once existed between dogs and humans, pushing the audience to tears. Touched by Atari's words, the defeated and shameful Kobayashi openly confesses to his corruption in front of everyone and officially rescinds the Trash Island decree. Enraged, Major Domo has a robot dog attack Kobayashi; Spots destroys it with one of his military-issued explosive teeth, but Atari and he are gravely injured in the process. Domo then presses the button to trigger the extermination, completely uncaring that it would also result in the countless deaths of the Megasaki citizens who are now in the way, only to have the extermination equipment and robots to malfunction and fail due to sabotage from Tracy's activist group. Atari and Spots are taken to a hospital, where Kobayashi donates one of his kidneys to save his nephew.

One month later, Atari becomes the new mayor of Megasaki due to a legal statute in Kobayashi's stead, and has all dogs reintegrated into society and cured of the dog flu, while Kobayashi and his co-conspirators and propagandists are all jailed for political corruption, and Major Domo faces a possible death sentence under Megasaki's new laws. Tracy (whose license was reinstated) and Atari become a couple, while Chief becomes Atari's new bodyguard dog and starts a relationship with Nutmeg. Meanwhile, Spots (recovering from his injuries) has had a statue erected in his honor, and resumes raising his litter with Peppermint under the care of a monk at a Shinto temple.

Cast[edit]

Production[edit]

Development[edit]

Isle of Dogs press conference at the 68th Berlin International Film Festival, February 2018

In October 2015, Anderson, who had previously directed the animated film Fantastic Mr. Fox, announced he would be returning to the art form with "a film about dogs"[11] starring Edward Norton, Bryan Cranston and Bob Balaban.[12][13] Anderson has said that he was inspired by seeing a road sign for the Isle of Dogs in England while Fantastic Mr. Fox was in development.[14] Anderson said that the film was strongly influenced by the films of Akira Kurosawa, as well as the stop-motion animated holiday specials made by Rankin/Bass Productions.[15]

Filming[edit]

Production began in October 2016 at the 3 Mills Studios in East London.[16][17][18]

The animation department included a number of people who had worked on Fantastic Mr. Fox.[19]

About 20,000 faces and 1,105 animatable puppets were crafted by "12 sculptors working six days a week" for the film; 2,000 more puppets were made for background characters. The detailed puppets of the main characters typically took 2-3 months to create.[20]

Virtual reality[edit]

Concurrently with the film, Félix and Paul Studios and FoxNext VR Studio collaborated on Isle of Dogs: Behind the Scenes (in Virtual Reality), an immersive video film that places the viewer directly inside the animated world.[21] The virtual reality film was released on the Google Pixel platform.[22]

Soundtrack[edit]

Isle of Dogs: Original Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by
ReleasedMarch 23, 2018
StudioAir Studios, London, England, United Kingdom[23]
GenreSoundtrack
Length43:29
LabelABKCO Records
ProducerWes Anderson
Randall Poster
Wes Anderson film soundtracks chronology
The Grand Budapest Hotel: Original Soundtrack
(2014)
Isle of Dogs: Original Soundtrack
(2018)
Professional ratings
Review scores
SourceRating
Backseat Mafia7.5/10[24]
Drowned in Sound7/10[25]
Pitchfork7.3/10[26]

The film's score was composed by Alexandre Desplat, who had previously worked with Wes Anderson on Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom, and The Grand Budapest Hotel. The soundtrack also features various original and selected songs from a variety of musicians, mainly from Japan. Some songs had origins in classic Japanese cinema such as the Akira Kurosawa films Drunken Angel (1948) and Seven Samurai (1954). The soundtrack comprises 22 tracks in total, 15 of which were composed by Desplat.[27]

Track listing

All tracks written and performed by Alexandre Desplat, except where noted.

No.TitleLength
1."Shinto Shrine"1:56
2."Taiko Drumming" (written and performed by Kaoru Watanabe)0:50
3."The Municipal Dome"2:29
4."Six Months Later + Dog Fight"2:05
5."The Hero Pack"1:08
6."First Crash-Landing"0:56
7."Kanbei & Katsushiro – Kikuchiyo's Mambo" (from Seven Samurai) (written by Fumio Hayasaka, performed by Toho Symphony Orchestra)0:52
8."Second Crash-Landing + Bath House + Beach Attack"4:07
9."Nutmeg"0:48
10."Kosame No Oka" (from Drunken Angel) (written by Hachirō Satō and Ryōichi Hattori, performed by David Mansfield)1:06
11."I Won't Hurt You" (written by Michael Lloyd, Shaun Harris and Bob Markley, performed by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band)2:23
12."Toshiro"1:07
13."Jupiter and Oracle + Aboriginal Dogs"2:05
14."Sushi Scene"1:41
15."Midnight Sleighride" (from Lieutenant Kijé Suite) (written by Sergei Prokofiev, performed by Sauter-Finegan Orchestra)3:01
16."Pagoda Slide"1:08
17."First Bath of a Stray Dog"0:26
18."TV Drumming" (written and performed by Watanabe)0:31
19."Kobayashi Canine-Testing Laboratory"1:57
20."Tokyo Shoe Shine Boy" (written by Seiichi Ida and Tasuku Sano, performed by Teruko Akatsuki)3:02
21."Re-Election Night, Parts 1-3"5:00
22."End Titles"4:51
Total length:43:29

Release[edit]

On December 23, 2016, Fox Searchlight Picture] acquired worldwide distribution rights to the film, with plans for a 2018 release.[28][29]

The film premiered as the opening film of the 68th Berlin International Film Festival on February 15, 2018, and had its North American premiere as the closing film of the SXSW Film Festival in Austin, Texas, on March 17, 2018.[30] Isle of Dogs began a limited release in the U.S. on March 23, 2018.[31] It was released nationwide in the United States on April 13, 2018.[32][33][34]

Box office[edit]

Isle of Dogs has grossed $32 million in the United States and Canada, and $32.1 million in other territories, for a worldwide total of $64.1 million.[6]

In its first weekend of limited release, the film made $1.57 million from 27 theaters (an average of $58,148 per venue). It was the best per-theater average of 2018 until it was overtaken by Eighth Grade in July.[32][35] Sixty percent of its audience was under the age of 30.[36] In its second weekend, the film made $2.8 million from 165 theaters (an increase of 74%), finishing 11th.[37] The film entered the top 10 in its third weekend, making $4.6 million from 554 theaters.[38] The film expanded to 1,939 theaters the following week and made $5.4 million, finishing seventh at the box office.[39]

Home media[edit]

Isle of Dogs was released on digital on June 26, 2018, and on DVD and Blu-ray on July 17, 2018.[40]

Reception[edit]

Critical response[edit]

On review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds an approval rating of 90% based on 355 reviews, and an average rating of 8.04/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "The beautifully stop-motion animated Isle of Dogs finds Wes Anderson at his detail-oriented best while telling one of the director's most winsomely charming stories."[41] On Metacritic, which assigns normalized ratings to reviews, the film has a weighted average score of 82 out of 100, based on 55 critics, indicating "universal acclaim."[42] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "A" on an A+ to F scale,[36] while PostTrak reported filmgoers gave it an overall positive score of 88%.[43]

Richard Roeper of the Chicago Sun-Times gave the film 3.5 out of 4 stars, praising it for taking risks, and saying: "It's smart and different and sometimes deliberately odd and really funny—rarely in a laugh-out-loud way, more in a smile-and-nod-I-get-the-joke kind of way."[44]

Portrayal of Japanese culture[edit]

Some Western critics have argued that the film is an example of racial stereotyping and cultural appropriation, and that one of its characters aligns with the trope of the "white savior".[45] The Japanese characters speak unsubtitled Japanese, with their dialogue instead being translated by an interpreter or a machine. Justin Chang of the Los Angeles Times wrote, "It's in the director's handling of the story's human factor that his sensitivity falters, and the weakness for racial stereotyping that has sometimes marred his work comes to the fore ... Much of the Japanese dialogue has been pared down to simple statements that non-speakers can figure out based on context and facial expressions". Angie Han, writing in Mashable, calls the American exchange student character Tracy a "classic example of the 'white savior' archetype—the well-meaning white hero who arrives in a foreign land and saves its people from themselves".[45]

While this critique has created some furor on the film's release, Chang has said that his review had been taken out of context and turned into a "battle cry" on Twitter, adding, "I wasn't offended; nor was I looking to be offended".[46] Another Japanese-American perspective was provided by Emily Yoshida, writing in New York magazine, that these concerns had been "seen before in debates about Asian culture as reflected by Western culture—perspectives can vary wildly between Asian-Americans and immigrated Asians, and what feels like tribute to some feels like opportunism to others".[47]

Writing for BuzzFeed, Alison Willmore found "no overt malicious intent to Isle of Dogs' cultural tourism, but it's marked by a hodgepodge of references that an American like Anderson might cough up if pressed to free associate about Japan—taiko drummers, anime, Hokusai, sumo, kabuki, haiku, cherry blossoms, and a mushroom cloud (!). ... This all has more to do with the ... insides of Anderson's brain than it does any actual place. It's Japan purely as an aesthetic—and another piece of art that treats the East not as a living, breathing half of the planet but as a mirror for the Western imagination".[48] She continued, "in the wake of Isle of Dogs' opening weekend, there were multiple headlines wondering whether the film was an act of appropriation or homage. But the question is rhetorical—the two aren't mutually exclusive, and the former is not automatically off the table just because the creator's intent was the latter".[48]

Conversely, Moeko Fujii wrote a favorable review for The New Yorker, complimenting the film's depiction of the Japanese and their culture, as well as pointing out that language is the key theme of the movie. Fujii wrote,

Anderson's decision not to subtitle the Japanese speakers struck me as a carefully considered artistic choice. Isle of Dogs is profoundly interested in the humor and fallibility of translation ... This is the beating heart of the film: there is no such thing as "true" translation. Everything is interpreted. Translation is malleable and implicated, always, by systems of power ... [the film] shows the seams of translation, and demarcates a space that is accessible—and funny—only to Japanese viewers.[49]

Fujii also deconstructed the criticisms of the character of Tracy Walker being a "white savior", and how this relates to the film's language theme, writing,

At a climactic moment, the movie rejects the notion of universal legibility, placing the onus of interpretation solely upon the American audience ... This is a sly subversion, in which the Japanese evince an agency independent of foreign validation. Indeed, to say that the scene dehumanizes the Japanese is to assume the primacy of an English-speaking audience. Such logic replicates the very tyranny of language that Isle of Dogs attempts to erode.[49]

Accolades[edit]

Award Date of ceremony Category Recipient(s) Result Ref.
Academy Awards February 24, 2019 Best Animated Feature Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven Rales and Jeremy Dawson Nominated [50]
Best Original Score Alexandre Desplat Nominated
Alliance of Women Film Journalists January 10, 2019 Best Animated Feature Film Wes Anderson Nominated [51]
Best Animated Female Greta Gerwig as Tracy Walker Nominated
Annie Awards February 2, 2019 Best Animated Feature Wes Anderson, Scott Rudin, Steven M. Rales and Jeremy Dawson Nominated [52]
Outstanding Achievement for Character Animation in an Animated Feature Production Jason Stalman Nominated
Outstanding Achievement for Production Design in an Animated Feature Production Adam Stockhausen and Paul Harrod Nominated
Outstanding Achievement for Voice Acting in an Animated Feature Production Bryan Cranston Won
Art Directors Guild Awards February 2, 2019 Excellence in Production Design for an Animated Film Adam Stockhausen and Paul Harrod Won [53]
Berlin International Film Festival February 25, 2018 Silver Bear for Best Director Wes Anderson Won [54]
[55]
Golden Bear Isle of Dogs Nominated
British Academy Film Awards February 10, 2019 Best Animated Film Wes Anderson Nominated [56]
Best Original Score Alexandre Desplat Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards December 7, 2018 Best Animated Feature Wes Anderson Nominated [57]
Cinema Audio Society Awards February 16, 2019 Outstanding Achievement in Sound Mixing for a Motion Picture – Animated Darrin Moore, Christopher Scarabosio, Wayne Lemmer, Xavier Forcioli, Simon Rhodes and Peter Persaud Won [58]
Critics' Choice Movie Awards January 11, 2019 Best Animated Feature Wes Anderson Nominated [59]
Best Score Alexandre Desplat Nominated
Dallas–Fort Worth Film Critics Association December 17, 2018 Best Animated Feature Isle of Dogs Won [60]
Florida Film Critics Circle Awards December 21, 2018 Best Animated Feature Isle of Dogs Nominated [61]
Golden Globe Awards January 6, 2019 Best Animated Feature Film Wes Anderson Nominated [62]
Best Original Score Alexandre Desplat Nominated
Golden Trailer Awards May 31, 2018 Best Animation/Family TV Spot Isle of Dogs: ":30TV 'Sic Em" Nominated [63]
[64]
Best Motion Poster Isle of Dogs: "Sneezing" Won
Isle of Dogs: "Wild Post" Nominated
Best Animation/Family Isle of Dogs: "Domestic Trailer #1" Won
Hollywood Music in Media Awards November 14, 2018 Original Score – Animated Film Alexandre Desplat Won [65]
Humanitas Prize February 8, 2019 Family Feature Film Wes Anderson, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Kunichi Nomura Nominated [66]
Online Film Critics Society January 2, 2019 Best Animated Feature Isle of Dogs Nominated [67]
Best Score Alexandre Desplat Nominated
Producers Guild Awards January 19, 2019 The Award for Outstanding Producer of Animated Theatrical Motion Pictures Isle of Dogs Nominated [68]
Satellite Awards February 17, 2019 Best Animated or Mixed Media Film Wes Anderson Won [69]
San Diego Film Critics Society December 10, 2018 Best Original Screenplay Nominated [70]
Best Animated Feature Isle of Dogs Won
Best Visual Effects Nominated
San Francisco Film Critics Circle December 9, 2018 Best Animated Feature Nominated [71]
Seattle Film Critics Society December 17, 2018 Best Animated Feature Wes Anderson Nominated [72]
South by Southwest Film Festival March 17, 2018 Audience Award: Headliners Isle of Dogs Won [73]
St. Louis Film Critics Association December 16, 2018 Best Animated Feature Runner-up [74]
Toronto Film Critics Association December 9, 2018 Best Animated Feature Won [75]
Visual Effects Society Awards February 5, 2019 Outstanding Visual Effects in an Animated Feature Mark Waring, Jeremy Dawson, Tim Ledbury, Lev Kolobov Nominated [76]
Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association Awards December 3, 2018 Best Animated Feature Wes Anderson Won [77]
Best Animated Voice Performance Bryan Cranston Won
World Soundtrack Awards October 17, 2018 Soundtrack Composer of the Year Alexandre Desplat[a] Won [78]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Also for his work in Endangered Species, Suburbicon, The Shape of Water, and Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets.

References[edit]

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