The Independent’s journalism is supported by our readers. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn commission.

Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs faces criticism for its depiction of Japan

Sparking a necessary conversation both about how we view the depictions of other cultures in film, and the importance of diversity in film criticism

Clarisse Loughrey
Sunday 25 March 2018 15:57
Comments
Isle of Dogs trailer

Wes Anderson has never been noted for his careful handling of other cultures: his 2007 feature The Darjeeling Limited faced criticisms of appropriation in its treatment of India, and his latest, Isle of Dogs, hasn't proven any different.

The stop-motion animation sees the director choose a futuristic imagining of Japan as its setting, complete with a fictionalised city named Megasaki, as its population of dogs are banished to Trash Island over fears of disease epidemic.

Though it purports to be a criticism of bigotry and scapegoating, there's been a growing conversation, largely initiated by Asian-American critics, about its use of Japanese culture as an aesthetic backdrop.

One of the most important pieces of writing on the subject comes from The LA Times' Justin Chang, a mixed review which praises the film's sense of innovation, but takes issue with the film's use of language.

In Isle of Dogs, the human residents of Megasaki speak their native Japanese, but the lack of subtitles others them. "Much of the Japanese dialogue, especially Atari's, has been pared down to simple statements that non-speakers can figure out based on context and facial expressions; longer, more complicated exchanges are translated aloud by a handy on-screen English interpreter (Frances McDormand)," Chang writes.

The dogs, meanwhile, speak American English, as he adds: " all these coy linguistic layers amount to their own form of marginalization, effectively reducing the hapless, unsuspecting people of Megasaki to foreigners in their own city." Neither is this helped by the fact the leader of the pro-dog movement is an American foreign exchange student (Greta Gerwig).

Mashable's Angie Han agreed with Chang's criticisms, adding: "The problem is that Isle of Dogs falls into a long history of American art othering or dehumanizing Asians, borrowing their 'exotic' cultures and settings while disregarding the people who created those cultures and live in those settings."

"She went further in arguing that Anderson's enthusiastic use of broad Japanese references (Akira Kurosawa, wasabi, cherry blossoms, and haikus all feature), are frustrating in their lack of meaning or impact on the story. If there's some reason Isle of Dogs had to be set in Japan, if there's something specifically Japanese about the story Anderson is trying to tell or the message it's trying to send, I don't know what it is," she writes.

Many have since voiced their agreement on Twitter, with the pieces (and others similar) sparking a necessary conversation both about how we view the depictions of other cultures in film, and the importance of diversity in film criticism to help guide those conversations.


Isle of Dogs hits UK cinemas 30 March.

Follow Independent Culture on Facebook for all the latest on Film, TV, Music, and more.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged in