Months ago, I was excited to hear of an upcoming movie called “Isle of Dogs.” I like isles and I like dogs, so it seemed like a movie I would enjoy.
But then I began to hear more about it….
An LA Times review accused the Texan and white (like me, I will add) director of appropriation of Japanese culture. You can read the review:
For me, not having seen it–but knowing the basic storyline–I felt that somehow Fukushima and the nuclear accident would be part of the movie. Once I heard the words “grim landscape” and “pre-apocalyptic wasteland,” I thought: “Oh, we know what’s comin’! It’s a difficult topic. Will it be done well? Can a guy from Houston, TX handle the tragedy well? Can he do it well? Can he? Can he?”
I saw the movie.
Spoiler: No, he can’t. He can not do it well.
In the movie, some kind of center for dogs was destroyed (twenty years from now) by earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power devastation. In the background of the grim landscape in the movie, there were nuclear reactors jutting out of the horizon.
In the movie, human cat lovers are the enemies of the dogs. This doesn’t make sense to me. (The story was so strange to me……….) It wasn’t a movie about 3/11–and Anderson NEVER says it is an allegory for 3/11, or about the actual abandoned pets of Tohoku. It’s actually… Well, Anderson doesn’t ever seem to explain what it’s about (in the interviews I’ve been combing through.)
“The inspiration for the film came not from Japan but from London, where Anderson was filming 2009’s Fantastic Mr. Fox: He saw signs for the Isle of Dogs, a small urban borough that juts into the River Thames, and it stuck with him. Developing the story with Jason Schwartzman, Kunichi Nomura, and Roman Coppola, Anderson transported Isle of Dogs to Japan in a tale influenced by the films of Hayao Miyazaki and Akira Kurosawa.
`The movie is a fantasy, and I would never suggest that this is an accurate depiction of any particular Japan,” Anderson says. “This is definitely a reimagining of Japan through my experience of Japanese cinema.’`”—from above link (Entertainment Weekly)
So what he is saying, I gather, is that in 2009 he wanted to make a movie about dogs. And then he placed it in Japan because he liked Miyazaki and Kurosawa. And then he….what? I don’t know where his thinking went at that point.
No, it was NOT an accurate depiction of Japan. It was a hodgepodge of what the vast majority of Americans think when they hear the word Japan:
sumo. drums. sushi.
seven-eleven convenience stores no, not that, not cool enough. school uniforms. ethnically ambiguous American foreign exchange student who knows more than the entire population of Japan altogether. Shopping at the grocery story, no, let’s leave that out, too humdrum. Japanese words that are incomprehensible. kids named Atari. Dogs named Nutmeg. Probably, nobody will notice the Japanese dogs are named Nutmeg, Chief, Spots, Rex rather than Pochi, Chibi, Koro, Momo, Chako and Shiro because, after all, Japanese is incomprehensible.
Okay, I’m getting really sarcastic here. Please forgive me. It’s just that I LOVE Fukushima. “Isle of Dogs” was a movie that went all over the place, grasping at anything it could to either titillate or disgust the audience, squeezing everything it could out of Japan to make a movie that Americans would find unique.
I wrote the above on Friday, and saved it to think about it. I didn’t want to post a review that I didn’t feel was what I wanted to say. On Saturday morning, I was walking early and thinking about the review, and the movie, and my feelings about the movie. One thing that really bothers me is that Japanese people LOVE dogs and (for the most part) treat them very well. Very very very very very very well. There are countries where dogs are not treated well, but Japan (generally speaking here, based on what I’ve seen) is not a country that leaves dogs to be neglected.
In the Japanese rural areas, yes, it’s more old-school–a bored, burly dog outside guarding the farmhouse. But in recent years, Japan is far more a country of people who take REALLY good care of their dogs. Pure-breds, mixes. Expensive dogs, rescue dogs. Young dogs, old dogs. Healthy dogs, dying dogs. Japanese people in general take really, really good care of them. (Speaking generally here, of course. Every country will have people who abuse animals.)
When I am walking, I greet all the dogs I pass. Some owners are in a hurry, but some owners are happy to talk and show off their pooch. Yesterday, I came across this sweetie while I was thinking about the movie. His human caretaker told me his name is Taro. He is a mix. It was so funny, because I asked, “Is it female or male?” The woman said, “Half.” I laughed and said, “Male? Had an operation?” She indicated that yes, he had been neutered.
She loves her dog SO SO SO much, and she’s NOT ALONE here. Lots of dog lovers in Japan. So that’s what left me scratching my head. We can’t take Anderson’s storyline literally….so what is it an allegory for? I don’t know. I feel it would have been a better movie if it were set in Houston–if he worked with what he knew best. Texans can be sending their dogs to a trash island in the Gulf of Mexico.
If he sets it in Japan, then he should NOT be making up the story. He doesn’t know Japan well enough, IMO. (I suspect he got LOTS of help from Kunichi Nomura for the Japanese culture parts, which are stunning, by the way.) Miyazaki very often (like Disney) borrowed other writers’ stories: “The Borrowers” “Kiki’s Delivery Service” “Howl’s Moving Castle.” I’ve seen two Kurosawa movies (“The Seven Samurai” and “Rashomon.”) Of those two movies, the first seems to have not been based on a book or anything else. But “Rashomon” was based off a Japanese classic story, and its storyline is very similar.
So Anderson…please, don’t think of your own storylines. You should paying me for this advice, but you’re not good at writing storylines. Visuals–A+, gorgeous, stunning, very nicely done. You are excellent at that. But storylines? No.
If you are interested in authentic Japanese dog names, here are a few: