See It Instead: Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs
Isle of Dogs was an alright movie. It’s also only in limited release. If you’d like something a little more than alright, here’s three options to see instead. And a bonus!
I watched Wes Anderson’s latest movie, Isle of Dogs this weekend. You can find my thoughts on it here. Being a limited release film, I had to drive over an hour to find the one theater that was playing it. If you’d rather save yourself the time, money, and hassle, grab a seat and prepare to… See It Instead!
Isle of Dogs (2018)
Seeing as you can grab just about everything you need to know about the movie from our review, I’ll keep this brief. Isle of Dogs is fine, but it felt too iterative; I was really hoping that Wes Anderson was going to start showing some growth as a film-maker.
Below you can find 3 alternatives that will scratch the itch: be it for Anderson-flavored flare, witty word play, or stop-motion animation excellence. I’ll even throw in a bonus for people who love the eclectic music that is a staple of Wes Anderson films.
The Obvious Pick: Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009)
George Clooney and Meryl “Oscar-Magnet” Streep headline this animated tale of a fox that wants to reconnect to his henhouse raiding heritage. Based on a story by Roald Dahl.
Fantastic Mr. Fox is the first collaboration between Anderson and cinematographer Tristan Oliver. It’s a witty, urbane take on the children’s tale with tons of voice talent. Yes, Bill Murray is in this one too. The biggest draw I had in rewatching this film was seeing how Oliver has grown from Mr. Fox to Isle of Dogs. The animation in Mr. Fox is fine; in Isle of Dogs it’s phenomenal. At least someone is growing in their medium.
The Witty, Wordy Pick: Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (Goodbye, Mr. Despair) (2007)
Nozumu Itoshiki is a horribly depressing pessimist. In between his attempts at ending his life, he also teaches a class full of eccentric optimists. Can he instill his despair-inducing social lessons, or will his insane students change his heart?
Isle of Dogs does a lot of humor based on the triple language barrier: the dogs speak bark, the humans speak Japanese, and the film only translates some of this to English. Certain things are subtitled, others left unintelligible, and every once in awhile the Humans and Dogs break character and understand each other perfectly. Combined with visual gags pertaining to the language, and the film was rife with chances to slip in word play.
If you like that type of comedy, you’ll love Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei. The Japanese are nearly as punny as Neil and I, and they love messing with words that sound the same but mean vastly different things when you play with the Kanji that make them up. Case in Point: if you read Itoshiki’s name horizontally instead of vertically, the Kanji becomes “Mr. Despair”. Zetsubou Sensei plays with this all day, giving weird personality traits to each character based on how you could read their name.
It also has a ton of sight gags, social commentary on living in Japan, and absurdity. You might need a pause button to catch all the jokes, as they come at you a mile a minute (often in subtitles), but if you wanted to see an “Andersonized” anime, Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei will tickle your fancy.
The Stop-Motion Pick: Kubo and the Two Strings (2016)
Kubo must care for his sickly mother by playing his Shamisen to make Origami dance at the local village. The magic that powers his performances will be tested when the evil that murdered his father returns.
When Kubo was nominated for an Academy Award, we reviewed it; as such I’ll focus on how it ties into Isle of Dogs.
Isle of Dogs has a ton of uniquely Japanese occurences, from Sumo Wrestling to Sushi preparations to a Taiko Drum performance. While I felt it came across as “a tourist’s checklist of Very Japanese Things”, it did flavor the movie with the culture Isle of Dogs uses as its spring-board.
Kubo is very much the same animal. It is suffused with Japanese culture, from religion to art. It helps cement a sense of time and place, and gives the film some ammunition to use in it’s visual arsenal. The animated Origami was delightful, and the use of Shamisen tied the soundtrack to the proceedings. It’s also a pleasant tale, with both whimsy and heart.
The Bonus Pick: Every Single Gotye Music Video, Ever.
Wes Anderson films are almost as notable for their soundtracks as the movie itself. They drive the feel of many of his movies, are often just as quirky and cool as the visuals, and seem chosen on their ability to burrow into your pop-culture consciousness.
If you’re like me (old), you remember back when getting playtime on MTV was almost more about the video than the music. From Peter Gabriel to Michael Jackson, a unique asthetic was a great way to become a cultural phenomenon.
If you want a modern(ish) marraige of impressive visuals and pop sensibility, Gotye is your man. You might remember him from “Somebody That I Used to Know” a song that was a summer jam back in 2011. The video was unique in itself; the body painting as camouflage visuals were often mimicked and parodied. What you might not have known was that pretty much every music video he released before and after that iconic song was just as visually impressive.
From the darkly comic “State of the Art” to the moving environmental polemic “Eyes Wide Open”, each video married style with substance. My personal favorite was “Hearts a Mess”, but you can find your own over at GotyeMusic, his YouTube channel.