Isle of Dogs

Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson’s latest film, concerns the nation of Japan “twenty years in the future,” where all dogs have been sequestered onto an island of trash in an effort to protect the populous from an outbreak of “dog flu.” One boy, Atari, the ward of the all-powerful mayor of the coast-to-coast city Megasaki, journeys to the island to find his dog, Spots. He is helped by a pack of dogs he meets on the island. Hijinks ensure.

Like Fantastic Mr. Fox, Wes Anderson’s last sorta-kid-focused feature, Isle of Dogs is an almost fully stop-motion affair. (“Almost” because there is also some hand-drawn 2D animation and a little CGI masking involved in the film.) You will be forgiven for willfully not following the plot at times because you are agog at the fluidity and intricacy of the movement of the puppets.

The film’s opening credits are scored by a kumi-daiko drumming trio. These puppets move perfectly, impossibly in time with the rapid, rhythmic music as if they are actually playing the drums and performing while doing so. You know it can’t be, but it appears to be. Slowing the action down to infinitesimal moments allows for jaw-dropping choreography between actor, object, and camera. It’s better than CGI, because we’re looking at real objects, reflecting real light, being captured by a real camera. And Isle of Dogs doesn’t peak with this opening scene. It continues to astound.

We may find the animation amazing, but the film itself is captivated by the camaraderie that exists between humans and dogs. Dogs are perpetual devotion devices that return exponentially more consideration to kind people than kind people give to them. They are also capable of returning exponentially more malice or fear as well. Dogs are remarkably gifted at mirroring human emotions and responding in kind. The conflict at the center of Isle of Dogs involves a family that has an irrational animosity toward dogs, so the dogs are hostile toward the people, but it only takes one boy’s daring to love a dog to break the cycle of hostility and let love flower forth instead.

This care for other creatures extends beyond the canine in Isle of Dogs as well. The film’s more disturbing scene chronicles the creation of a plate of sushi. The fish and crabs and octopi tentacles wriggle about as they are sliced apart and arranged for human consumption. It’s almost enough to make you vegan on the spot.

Personally, I was never a “dog person.” I wasn’t afraid of them, but I didn’t see any need to complicate my life with a furry creature than would only cost money to care for. My wife felt differently. Marriage is a series of compromises in favor of someone you love, so I relented, and we got a dog as soon as we were in a situation in which we could properly care for it. 

Duchess Roosevelt Thunder-Snow Wasp-Hunter Davidson, our miniature Australian shepherd—“Rosie”—entered our life when we lived for a year far away from our friends and family in a strange land. That was a trying year, full of unforeseen stresses, and I spent many a day on our living room couch sad and confused about what we should do. I discovered Rosie frequently on the couch beside me, cuddled up close. On one particularly distressing day when I was crying, she hopped up on the couch, looked at me, and laid her little paw on my arm, as if to say, “It’s okay. I’m here.” How did she know I was distressed? Remarkable creation. A friend.

Scientist estimate that people first domesticated dogs around 32,000 years ago, some 20,000 years before we domesticated goats and sheep, the next animals in line. So humans and dogs have been living together for a long time. We’re both good at it. It’s an indictment against people as a whole that we treat them so poorly at times. It’s to their credit that dogs are so eager to forgive.

That’s Isle of Dogs.

Isle of Dogs.

Isle. Of. Dogs.


And they love us too.