everything we learned from wes anderson about isle of dogs

Take a paws and check out what we learned about the director’s doggy debut.

by Russell Dean Stone
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16 February 2018, 1:28pm

Wes Anderson dropped the world premiere of his stop motion spectacular, Isle of Dogs, on the opening night of the 68th Berlin International Film Festival. We were at the screening to get a first glimpse of the movie, before joining Anderson and the Isle of Dogs cast (featuring some of Anderson’s loyal returning cohorts including Bill Murray, Bryan Cranston, Greta Gerwig, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Liev Schreiber, Bob Balaban) as well as co-writers Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola.

It’s been four years since Anderson last opened the Berlin International Film Fest with The Grand Budapest Hotel (it won the Silver Bear Grand Jury Prize in 2014) and Isle of Dogs is a triumphant return to Wes’ whimsical world. Set in fictional dystopian Japanese Megasaki City, 20 years in the future, dog flu has ravaged the canine population and as a result tyrannical Mayor Kobayashi has banished all dogs to “Trash Island”. Things look pretty grim until Kobayashi’s intrepid 12-year-old ward, Atari (Koyu Rankin), crash lands on the island in search of his dog Spots and teams up with a pack of indestructible alpha dogs, led by Chief (Bryan Cranston).

Without spoiling things too much, what ensues is a kind of modern fable that will have you rooting for the literal underdogs as they try to avoid the seemingly inevitable canine genocide coming their way. Just like Fantastic Mr Fox before it (and the rest of Anderson’s work for that matter), Isle of Dogs revolves around family drama and meticulously thought out rescue missions and escape plans. Though both the human and doggo characters frequently well up with tears, the movie lacks a hardcore emotional punch (failing to capitalise on the pure agony of losing one of man’s best friends) and instead settles for non-stop entertainment and witty one-liner funnies (not that we’re complaining). Anderson describes the movie as a “soufflé”, we say it’s a real treat.

Here’s everything we learnt about Isle of Dogs from top dog Wes Anderson himself.

It started with a dump.
Anderson, Schwartzman and Coppola started the project with the simple idea to make a movie about a pack of dogs abandoned on a garbage dump. They’d also been wanting to make something that related to their shared appreciation for Japan and Japanese cinema, so they mashed the two ideas together to create the plot for Isle of Dogs. Anderson said, “In a way the story could have taken place anywhere, but the thing that made it come to life for us was [that] this should be [set] in a fantasy version of Japan.”

He got to work with his dream cast, and they inspired the animation.
“When you do a movie like this, the work that happens with the actors happens briskly and it happens early in the process and then so much of what so many people do over the time period after is inspired by what we hear,” explained Anderson. So if you ever wondered which way around they do the voice recording and the animation, now you know! Anderson said the cast were pretty much the first people on his dream list to voice the movie, not that he was taking no for answer, “One thing about an animated movie is you can’t really say ‘not available’, we can do it any time, we can do it at your house, any hour of the day - there’s just no excuse!”

Stop motion animation can be… as problematic as real actors, but there’s no CGI.
According to Anderson, stop-motion animation throws up some peculiar problems that you just don’t get with other forms of filmmaking. For example, you might find out, two and half years into a project, that one of your puppet characters can’t actually smile. Anderson says these unconventional issues are all part of the fun though and that, “There’s always a way around it, you figure out a solution, you have no choice.” The entire movie escues digital techniques in favour of embracing old fashion techniques and instead shooting everything possible ‘in camera’, so although some shots are combined digitally, there’s no real CGI involved.

It gets political.
Though The Grand Budapest Hotel was set to a backdrop of 1930’s European strife, the film didn’t really deal with the politics headon. Isle of Dogs on the other hand mixes up Anderson’s recurring theme of family feuds with some more overt politics. “Early in the process we said we needed to invent the politics of this city. We knew that we had a mayor and we knew there was something happening politically,” says Anderson, “It’s our fantasy of the politics of this made up place in Japan.” Having worked on the feature for over two years, as they were working the world began to change and they found some of the theme’s they were dealing with, like political corruption and sketchy elections, started to resonate with this particular moment in time.

The film is kinda quiet.
When making Fantastic Mr Fox, Anderson not only took direct inspiration from Roald Dahl but Japanese movies, particularly the work of Akira Kurosawa and Hayao Miyazaki. Isle of Dogs even features Mari Natsuki who voiced characters in Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. Anderson explained how Miyazaki’s work inspired his own, describing it as having a, “Kind of rhythm that is not in the American animation tradition so much”. Anderson also credits Miyazaki for the notable use of silence in Isle of Dogs, saying, “The movie kind of wanted to be quiet.” With the guidance of co-writer Kunichi Nomura, the films Japanese cultural references (like it’s nods to Hokusai art) are delivered with grace. Nomura starred in and helped with Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation, so he’s familiar with America’s anxiety about upsetting Japanese audiences. Nomura joked that Japanese people don’t get American culture anymore than Americans understand Japanese, “I think that’s how I feel when I go to New York, I was just laughing at how Americans speak so fast and every food is too big. Why you have to drink so much coca cola?”

He did some bleak research on dogs.
Noah Baumbach suggested Anderson and co watch The Plague Dogs, the film adaptation of Richard Adams’ 1977 novel of the same name. Adams is the man responsible for Watership Down, so you can safely assume The Plague Dogs is not a barrel of laughs, with Anderson warning it’s a “very very bleak movie.”

Wes doesn’t have a dog. He has a pygmy goat!
Jason Schwartzman has a 14 and a half year old French Bulldog named Arrow Joel Schwartzman. Bill Murray has a half-Terrier half-Jack Russell mix, who survived an attack by a coyotes, his name is Timmy Murray. Bryan Cranston’s dog recently passed away - RIP Bryan Cranston’s dog. Wes Anderson is the proud owner of a pygmy goat! Jeff Goldblum has a red haired standard poodle named Woody who is four years old and recently broke his leg. Greta Gerwig does not have a dog but would like one, “I stop and pet all the dogs in New York where I live,” she says, “2018 is my year of the dog.” Paws up!