America’s most symmetrical auteur
March 29, 2018 1:12 PM   Subscribe

Emily Yoshida: What It’s Like to Watch Isle of Dogs As a Japanese Speaker.
posted by Think_Long (53 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Also super relevant to this conversation:

How Do You Solve a Problem Like 'Isle of Dogs'? [Rolling Stone]
“But there are differences between Japanophilia and cinephilia, just as there are differences between paying tribute to a foreign culture and using what you've gleaned about a country from watching its movies as some sort of exotic backdrop. And therein lies the problem. I love so much in Isle of Dogs. I am moved by it. So why do I find myself cringing so hard at the way it reduces an entire nation's history and character to the equivalent of an album's deep-cut? Yes, it's easy to read what Anderson & co. are doing as an homage to his hermetic ideas of the land of the rising sun rather than a racist Orientalism caricature along the lines of, say, those old Fu Manchu movies of the 1930s or Mickey Rooney's buck-toothed landlord from Breakfast at Tiffany's. (We're not dignifying this with a link, you'll have to seek out this atrocity yourself.) It's a little harder to acknowledge that there's a tourist-y tone-deafness that comes as part of the package. Harder, but necessary. You don't get one without the other here.”
posted by Fizz at 1:24 PM on March 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


Too.

Many.

Movies.

To.

See...
posted by Samizdata at 1:28 PM on March 29, 2018


I saw this last weekend, and also have been keeping up with the press about it. This is a really great article, because I was wondering about Japanese language reception of the film.

The problems aren't just a shallow appropriation of a massive, complex, modern culture: they're also problems of character and story. Without spoiling too much, the white transplant character is weak and doesn't have much to do beyond being an American proxy for the action. The strangely ahistorical take on the culture (prioritizing a sort of story-book version of Showa era Japan) feels lazy in a way that other ahistoricism never does in an Anderson film. For example, the mish-mash of technology, styles, and objects in the Tenebaum house feels like it speaks to the idea that this family has been kept in the past by the toxic attitudes of Royal. In Isle of the Dogs it felt like: this feels pretty.
posted by codacorolla at 1:34 PM on March 29, 2018


The Darjeeling Limited was also problematic when it was released. For example, Rita, who seems to only exist as a sexual object/mysterious 'Orientalist' other. The film is a kind of misery porn for three white men who discover enlightenment by going on a Tour in India. You know, that one friend that goes to India because they read Eat, Pray, Love and comes back to lecture you about how they've found a sense of enlightenment because they now practice yoga.

The trailer, the cast, it all looks quite wonderful but I've been hesitant to watch this because of the many issues that critics have raised about the film's treatment of the Japanese culture. And I've been a fan of Wes Anderson, it's just raising lots of complicated feelings.
posted by Fizz at 1:44 PM on March 29, 2018 [13 favorites]


1. Until I see the film I’m not going to worry my bald little head about this stuff.
2. Over the winter I read a book by Louise Penny, an Anglo writer writing about life and crime in a small village in Quebec. I had a little bit of a hard time with it because a slice of characters are Francophone and at one point or another each portray some stereotype I grew up with as a kid. Fiery tempers, quirky religion, great style, incomprehension of the anglos blahblahblah. And while it’s not derogatory, not really, it’s still like being talked about while you’re in the room. And it kinda sucks. Which I imagine might be the case here. I hope not but then again, I won’t know beyond anything that might stick out (Darling Atrocity style) because I am not Japanese.
posted by From Bklyn at 1:45 PM on March 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


With the initial previews of Isle of Dogs, along with his propensity for random graphic violence, I was already on the fence about this being the only Wes Anderson movie I wouldn’t watch. (My working hypothesis for movies in general is “If a dog appears in a trailer, it will die tragically in the movie.” And I don’t need to see that most days/ever.)

With that — and the later realization as more trailers came out that there was a lot of suspiciously orientalistic things going on — I will be skipping Isle of Dogs altogether.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:46 PM on March 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


It sounds like they're doing to Japan what Japan has done to the idea of American-ness forever. Like watching Arnold Schwartzenegger hawk Japanese energy drinks.

Cultural Appropriation is a problem when it portrays other cultures as backward, or uses a façade of another culture to sell whiteness, like a white performer instantly becoming more famous than POC performers who've been working harder for longer.

I don't think this is going to hit either condition.

(edit) I think the Japan depicted is a fantasy Japan, so doesn't need to embrace the complexities of the actual country/culture.
posted by fnerg at 1:51 PM on March 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


I hope we don't get too bogged down into what is or is not cultural appropriation. I liked this article because of its focus on language, specifically, and how that affects the movie's perception among various viewers.
posted by Think_Long at 1:53 PM on March 29, 2018 [12 favorites]


‘Isle of Dogs’ Backlash: Wes Anderson Criticized for Racial Stereotypes and ‘Marginalizing Japanese Culture’
“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,” he continues. “The dogs, for their part, all speak clear American English, which is [...] effectively reducing the hapless, unsuspecting people of Megasaki to foreigners in their own city.” Jen Yamato of the Los Angeles Times supported Chang’s review by tweeting out her own criticism: “Thank you, Justin Chang, for devoting far more attention than most critics will to many of the willfully tone-deaf ways Wes Anderson appropriates and marginalizes Japanese culture and people in his so-called homage. It is ugly, indeed.”
Anderson's mishandling of race is a fairly longstanding issue with PoC:

Unbearable Whiteness: That queasy feeling you get when watching a Wes Anderson movie
Anderson generally likes to decorate his margins with nonwhite, virtually mute characters: Pelé in Life Aquatic, a Brazilian who sits in a crow's-nest and sings David Bowie songs in Portuguese; Mr. Sherman in Royal Tenenbaums, a black accountant who wears bow ties, falls into holes, and meekly endures Gene Hackman's racist jabs—he calls him "Coltrane" and "old black buck," which Anderson plays for laughs; Mr. Littlejeans in Rushmore, the Indian groundskeeper who occasionally mumbles comical malapropisms. There's also Margaret Yang, Apple Jack, Ogata, and Vikram. Taken together, they form a fleet of quasi-caricatures and walking punch lines, meant to import a whimsical, ambient multiculturalism into the films. Anderson frequently points out his white characters' racial insensitivities ("Which part of Mexico are you from?" Wilson asks Ines in Bottle Rocket. She shakes her head. "Paraguay." "Oh, Paraguay … that's over … under … Guatemala. …"), but he presents them, ultimately, as endearing quirks. [...] He's wise enough to make fun of it here and there, but in the end, there's something enamored and uncritical about his attitude toward the gaffes, crises, prejudices, and insularities of those he portrays.
posted by runt at 1:55 PM on March 29, 2018 [11 favorites]


My working hypothesis for movies in general is “If a dog appears in a trailer, it will die tragically in the movie.” And I don’t need to see that most days/ever.

For those wondering about this aspect: Does the Dog Die? has the (mostly good news, I guess?) answer.
posted by jedicus at 1:57 PM on March 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


It sounds like they're doing to Japan what Japan has done to the idea of American-ness forever. Like watching Arnold Schwartzenegger hawk Japanese energy drinks.

I really despise this strain of 'but what do the Japanese think?'

it doesn't matter what they think, they're in a cultural milieu that's shielded, where they're the dominant identity in their culture. this is not the case for Asian-Americans, particular Japanese-Americans who have faced particularly brutal oppression at the hands of the US government. having Asian-American voices and faces represented in media in respectful, non-stereotypical ways is such a crucial thing for those of us who have to deal with day-to-day microaggressions and shit like actual targeted voter suppression. it's role models, it's inspirations, it's everything white people get anytime they turn on the TV

it is such a tremendously white-centered thing to assume that the true voices that matter in situations like these are literal foreign nationals who have little to no impact on the dialogue here. you can do a better job to remember that the US is not just white people
posted by runt at 1:59 PM on March 29, 2018 [55 favorites]


My feeling when I watch Wes Anderson movies is that he has mostly forgotten about women. His movies are so full of men, in roles that could easily be women, it is a glaring choice to me. [Disclaimer: I have not seen all of his movies.] The women he does include don't strike me as total stereotypes or offensive representations. Except that poor woman in Darjeeling Limited! The longer I watch the more I feel like it never occurred to him that I would be in the audience (or more likely, it never occurred to him that it would play differently to me than to a white man sitting next to me).

That's what the absence of any kind of Japanese easter egg, and the irrelevance of the Japanese dialogue feels like to me. Just seems like he made this as a film for non-Asian English speakers and while he may not have wanted to misrepresent Japanese culture, he didn't try to play to it. Japanese people as the audience isn't relevant to his thought process. Like the article says, setting it in Japan is just a style choice, not anything culturally relevant.
posted by Emmy Rae at 2:04 PM on March 29, 2018 [16 favorites]


I get that Japanese Americans aren't Japanese, and the cultural problems are different. I'm Japanese American FFS.

The point is that you can have a simplistic fantasy version of a culture for entertainment purposes without erasing the actual culture, as long as you're not doing it in a way that paints the culture as some primitive backwards thing that white people have to save.
posted by fnerg at 2:06 PM on March 29, 2018 [9 favorites]


as long as you're not doing it in a way that paints the culture as some primitive backwards thing that white people have to save

... uhhhhh isn't this film exactly that? A white savior that prevents the "backwards" culture of Japan eliminating dogs?
posted by xtine at 2:09 PM on March 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


I mean, the problem with Ghost in the Shell was that it painted whiteness as aspirational, which the director's ham-handed excuse completely didn't cover. That was another example where the Japanese didn't give a shit, but Asian Americans absolutely cared about.

I haven't seen this movie yet, but it doesn't seem to be taking that stance of whiteness as something to be aspired to.
posted by fnerg at 2:10 PM on March 29, 2018


I think you can have a higher bar for American depictions of East Asian society than 'slightly better than The Last Samurai'

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is already a higher bar than this
posted by runt at 2:10 PM on March 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


... uhhhhh isn't this film exactly that? A white savior that prevents the "backwards" culture of Japan eliminating dogs?

Maybe, but the trailers all look like it's a little Japanese kid preventing his own country from eliminating dogs.
posted by fnerg at 2:12 PM on March 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the post. I liked that the article was mostly devoted to actually talking about the movie, instead of just trying yet again to explain cultural appropriation to people who don't believe it's a real thing.

Lisa also says that the written-out “Megasaki City,” a fictional name which doesn’t mean anything in Japanese, contains a fictional nonsense kanji character presumably made up by the art department.

I feel like something might have gotten lost in translation (heh) between Lisa and the author. At least in the trailer, Megasaki is clearly written as メガ崎 with the first two characters squished together. (That's "mega" spelled phonetically, as is common for foreign loan words, and the same "saki" as in Nagasaki.)

It's certainly not a common way to write a place name, but it's not like the art department just drew a random squiggle and said "screw it, nobody's gonna notice".
posted by teraflop at 2:13 PM on March 29, 2018 [7 favorites]


I think you can have a higher bar for American depictions of East Asian society than 'slightly better than The Last Samurai'

If there's one thing I hate, it's movies where a white guy goes to Japan, kills a bunch of Japanese people, fucks a Japanese woman, then has some old guy say, "Now you're a true samurai" or something. That was one of the Wolverine movies, and the original Chris Claremont comic book that people love so much, and it's tiresome.

This movie, again, not having seen it yet, doesn't appear to be that. It looks like it's about a little kid saving his dog. I don't see a white savior, but I could be wrong about that.
posted by fnerg at 2:21 PM on March 29, 2018


Cultural Appropriation is a problem when it portrays other cultures as backward, or uses a façade of another culture to sell whiteness, like a white performer instantly becoming more famous than POC performers who've been working harder for longer.

I don't think this is going to hit either condition.


It does both, in my opinion. There are two main characters: Atari, who is the human POV on the Isle, and native-born Japanese, and there is Tracy, the POV on Megasaki, who is an exchange student from Ohio. Tracy helps Atari from the mainland mostly by being more brave and less bound to authority than the host culture around her. Almost none of those Japanese characters have real motivations or lines - even the villain's motivations are pretty nebulous, apart from honoring his ancestors. Added to that, Anderson's typical ahistorical approach to story-telling (much like how the scouts in Moonrise Kingdom seem out of a 70s adventure novel rather than a modern setting) doesn't appear to care much about Japan other than traditional art, a few filmic references, and super generic theming and set dressing. I think this is less notable when Anderson has something to say about the (white, upper middle class, intellectual) culture that he's rendering into a dollhouse version, but his approach to Japan doesn't seem to be informed by any actual modern film, history, or culture. It's a very confusing movie altogether, because setting and character are two things that Anderson (for all his other faults) should be good at.
posted by codacorolla at 2:21 PM on March 29, 2018 [6 favorites]


But anyway, the reactions to how the language was used is interesting. Wes Anderson's dialogue is stilted anyway. I think that's part of his style.
posted by fnerg at 2:24 PM on March 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


uhhhhh isn't this film exactly that? A white savior that prevents the "backwards" culture of Japan eliminating dogs?

No. Atari is the main human character. If anything, Tracy (the white girl) is, as codacorolla pointed out, kind of a weak character. Without going into spoilers, Atari plays a much larger part of saving the dogs both on and off the isle.

It is... really troubling to me that here on the blue and in some the articles I've read that people keep forgetting who the main human character is, and automatically assume it must be the white American.
posted by AlSweigart at 2:26 PM on March 29, 2018 [6 favorites]


Hold up - I don't support that at all. Atari is one of two main (human) characters in terms of screen time. Tracy has nearly equal billing - maybe more-so in terms of agency, because she's doing all of the political stuff, whereas Atari's storyline is mostly an adventure. Tracy is, absolutely, a white savior character, and it's only her background as an outsider against Anderson's dated and flat interpretation of Japanese culture that allow a resolution to the film.
posted by codacorolla at 2:31 PM on March 29, 2018 [6 favorites]


I would also imagine that if you count lines, since Atari is surrounded by dogs the entire time, Tracy has 2 to 3 times more spoken dialogue than Atari. The audience mostly knows Atari as a very vague outline of a kid who cares about his dog. Tracy gets actual characterization and development (although not much).
posted by codacorolla at 2:32 PM on March 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


What's interesting to me about this backlash is how in turn Japan in general is very racist towards Americans and foreigners themselves. Obviously two wrongs don't make a right, but there's something odd about the kind of eggshells you have to tiptoe about here.
posted by GoblinHoney at 2:37 PM on March 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


Yeah “be thoughtful about how other people feel about things” is really a pain.
posted by Celsius1414 at 2:51 PM on March 29, 2018 [11 favorites]


Commenting without having seen the movie, is there any reason to set this movie in Japan? Could the same story have been told with a future post-apocalyptic Staten Island garbage land?
posted by kokaku at 2:53 PM on March 29, 2018


I'm on the side of "Tracy doesn't do that much." Her hacker friend does more than she does. She's mostly there, as I see it, as a love interest/female reward, like every other female character in the movie except for the translator.
posted by tofu_crouton at 2:56 PM on March 29, 2018


...is there any reason to set this movie in Japan?

I'll answer this, coming from the background of 1) someone who likes to talk about pop culture and 2) someone who is a Japanese American and 3) someone who is half-Asian and half-white and 4) someone who was a theater kid for years but dropped it in no small part because I realized that the stage and screen weren't exactly receptive to short Asian-looking dudes:

It's A FUCKING GODDAMN NICE CHANGE OF PACE to see an American movie that features (features!) non-token, non-villainous, non-martial arts Asian characters with agency and more than one dimension. Joy Luck Club and Better Luck Tomorrow are great, but they also came out twenty five and fifteen years ago.

I'm writing up a full comment right now, but in short: I loved the movie and want to see more like it and I didn't think it wore Japanese culture like a bad Halloween costume. I'll try to finish up the comment asap.
posted by AlSweigart at 3:18 PM on March 29, 2018 [23 favorites]


It’s worth noting that this movie will absolutely play differently in Japan because, not to put too fine a point in it, Japan as a whole views itself as a sort of nebulous “honorary ‘white’ country.”
posted by DoctorFedora at 3:33 PM on March 29, 2018


She's mostly there, as I see it, as a love interest/female reward

I don't agree. The hacker character is brilliant: he's not quite the computer nerd or black-hoodie-hacker stereotype, and despite the ridiculous teen mustache (he's a high school student, after all), he's capable and competent and not passive. And all of this is done without a single line of dialogue from him.

But he's definitely a side character. Meanwhile, Tracy (the white American foreign exchange student) takes action and has agency, standing up for her ideas to the open-but-skeptical student club, encouraging the assistant character, and defying the Mayor.

She's displaying agency by having a crush on Atari, instead of being the object of desire. And, how can I put this... it's kind of nice to see a white girl show desire for an Asian boy. Like, that happens in The Walking Dead, and I forget which stand up comic remarked, "It took the zombie apocalypse for that to happen."

I don't want to go into spoilers, but it's definitely not like the ending of The Lego Movie, which was real cringeworthy how bad the guy-gets-girl-as-reward trope played out.
posted by AlSweigart at 3:43 PM on March 29, 2018 [7 favorites]


It sounds like they’re doing to Japan what Japan has done to the idea of American-ness forever. Like watching Arnold Schwartzenegger hawk Japanese energy drinks.

I have tried thinking about it this way, but my problem is that I’m not sure that matters because a) if something isn’t right it isn’t right, and b) the relationships between different cultures are inherently not commutative: what is appropriation for one is a different thing for another. The nature of the actor impacts the interpretation of the action.
posted by Going To Maine at 3:50 PM on March 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


Does it have to be in Japan? Well the Othering of humans is a central part of the movie, so it has to focus on a culture different than Wes Anderson's. I think beyond that Japan was an apt choice because they are concerned with pets in a way that Americans but not a lot of other cultures are, and he got to pay homage to a lot of artists he admires. From the outset his purpose was both an attempt to be respectful and also deliberately exoticizing. I'm not defending these choices, but I have been trying to figure out this decision myself.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:16 PM on March 29, 2018


In Anderson's defense, as a creator of movies that are more or less exclusively about sad white men, the choice of at least having female protagonist is arguably a step in the right direction. ; )

(I do enjoy his movies, don't get me wrong!)
posted by DoctorFedora at 5:48 PM on March 29, 2018


While my train was stuck in the station, I had a lot of time to stare at the poster for this film and it really, really irritated me that the English words were attached to the wrong kanji. Even though I loved The Grand Budapest Hotel and I love dogs, I think I'll skip this one because it will drive my inner pedant crazy.

Oddly enough, I've been to more than one Japanese cafe influenced by Wes Anderson. The cakes were very symmetrical.
posted by betweenthebars at 5:55 PM on March 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


Hi. So this is something I want to weigh in on because 1) I like talking about pop culture and 2) I'm Japanese American and 3) I'm biracial half-Asian and half-white and 4) I was a theater kid for years but dropped it in no small part because I realized that the stage and screen weren't the most receptive to short Asian-looking guys. My identity is relevant here to an oddly-specific degree, so I'd like to hold court for a bit.

I'll try to avoid spoilers. It's a good movie and you should see it. It is no where close to The Last Samurai or Gran Torino.

I've been eagerly waiting to see Isle of Dogs since November or October when the trailer blew me away. One of the jokes that I loved was when Atari gives an impassioned speech and one of the dogs says "I wish somebody spoke his language." It breaks the fourth wall a bit because even though the dogs clearly speak English, this is just an artifact of it being an American movie and the dogs don't understand Japanese any more than they understand English. I thought it was clever and funny. (And the gag works in any foreign language dub except Japanese. I'm not sure how they'll handle that.)

Should this decision have been different? You could have all the characters speaking English, but having the Japanese characters in Japan not speaking Japanese is, if anything, more problematic. Or you could have everyone including the dogs speak in Japanese with subtitles. But Wes Anderson making what is now effectively a Japanese movie would have more pitfalls for culturally insensitivity.

I defend the decision the movie made. It reinforces that the dogs and the humans are unable to directly communicate: the movie is about having empathy for a group despite how easy the language barrier makes it to "other" them. The dogs struggle for themselves, but ultimately rely on the humans (Japanese and English speakers alike) who are the characters with the real power to decide their fate. Not having subtitles isn't a cheap trick to make the Japanese dialogue add a dose of exoticism.

There was a decision to set this in Japan (albeit in that faux-1960s retro-but-timeless period that all Wes Anderson movies seem to take place in. The film claims it's "twenty years in the future" but you don't see any smartphones.) Should this movie have side-stepped any potential cultural insensitivity by taking place in America?

Then we end up with yet another American movie that has one, maaaaybe two, Asian characters. That would choice would have been safe, uncontroversial, and yet sweeps Asian actors aside. The one (maaaaybe two) Asian characters would have been "the Asian characters", compared to the huge range of characters and body types of the puppets in the existing movie.

Also, I don't understand why the linked article says there was only one Easter egg in the movie for people who understand Japanese and Japanese culture. I'm a guy who grew up in Texas, but even I saw tons of subtle nods that a typical American wouldn't see: the abandoned amusement park (an artifact of the 90s Lost Decade, also a prominent point in Spirited Away), the Tokyo Dragons shirt one of the dogs wears, mushroom cloud imagery, the environmental theme (very relevant for a large industrial island nation that imports most of its natural resources, think Princess Mononoke or Pom Poko), and the name of the Mayor's lieutenant "Major Domo" (a pun on term "majordomo" and the Japanese word "domo"). Those are beyond the sumo/taiko drums/sushi stuff that a typical American audience will recognize.

Should Tracy have been Japanese instead of a white American? It's easy to see Tracy as a white savior character: she leads the student club in the resistance against the anti-dog grown ups (who are all Japanese). But unlike the white dudes in Gran Torino or The Last Samurai, Tracy isn't the main human character of Isle of Dogs: Atari is. Atari is the one who goes to the island, fights off the grown ups there, returns to Megasaki and [redacted for spoilers]. And in the critical moment during the climax, it isn't Tracy who saves the day or gets credit for saving the day.

And there's something that would be missing if Tracy was Japanese: we wouldn't have a white girl who crushes on an Asian boy. White girls fancying non-white boys (unlike the opposite) is something you rarely see in American shows and movies (in recent memory I can only think of The Big Sick, and, well, Get Out). Especially when the guy is Asian. (I commented earlier on this.)

Should Tracy have spoken Japanese, instead of English? This is a tricky: it is strange that an American foreign exchange student predominantly speaks English and her peers know enough English to understand her. Writing this comment is already going into the four hour mark for me, so to put it shortly: The white American speaking Japanese would have been cited as more evidence of cultural appropriation, not cultural sensitivity, just as everything Japanese in this movie is, no matter how dignified or carefully portrayed.

Should the protagonist have been named "Atari", given that that's a Japanese word (meaning "to hit the target") but isn't a Japanese name? I dunno. I mean, yeah, it was probably selected to be easier on Anglophone ears, but it could have also been selected for artistic meaning, just like "Zero" in Grand Budapest Hotel.

Some problematic things I did see in the movie: Yeah, it's a bit weird to have Japanese people putting a group of second-class citizens into an internment camp given recent American history. But I don't at all get the sense that it was an effort to rewrite history and alleviate white guilt the way Rambo, Gran Torino, Dances with Wolves, Avatar, etc. are.

Isle of Dogs could have had more female characters. Tracy isn't a hero's-reward character, though you could argue Nutmeg is (and argue she isn't, arg, I can't talk because of spoilers). The assistant scientist character is a woman, while the main scientist is a man, but consider what trope would have played out had this been reversed (sorry for being vague, but I don't want to go into spoilers). This is a gender issue, rather than a cultural appropriation one.

I think Isle of Dogs sits in a Catch-22. Its choices to take place in a primarily Japanese setting (as opposed to a generic American one) can be held up as cultural appropriation. But this makes it impossible for a movie to portray Japanese culture unless it is specifically about some aspect of Japanese culture. In which case, it would be even more inappropriate for a white filmmaker to be making that movie. This means the only way for Isle of Dogs to be made is to not be made at all. I think there needs to be more media that has American minorities at the forefront, not less.

I think Isle of Dogs is a fine movie, and I won't have any misgivings when I go to see it a second time.
posted by AlSweigart at 6:55 PM on March 29, 2018 [45 favorites]


The punishment for overthinking and applying entirely too much fashionable ideology and staying home from this movie is not getting to see an enjoyable movie. I think I'm going to let myself enjoy this movie.
posted by tommyD at 8:55 PM on March 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


Wait, did I wake up in a universe where only white folks speak English?

Since this is an animated film with mostly animals, we don't run into the issue of having a white voice actor playing an Asian human (which made me feel a little bit ambivalent about the otherwise great Kubo and the Two Strings). You can cast ANYONE to be a frickin' dog.
posted by FJT at 10:43 PM on March 29, 2018


Hi. So this is something ...

Way to place something completely off my radar squarely onto it!
posted by filtergik at 5:08 AM on March 30, 2018


AlSweigart, thanks so much for that thoughtful and detailed comment. I was on the fence about seeing the movie based on the backlash from the trailers, but you've convinced me to give it a fair shot.
posted by cooker girl at 5:55 AM on March 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


AlSweigart, thanks so much for that thoughtful and detailed comment. I was on the fence about seeing the movie based on the backlash from the trailers, but you've convinced me to give it a fair shot.

Seconded. And I'd like to thank each and every one of you for bringing your insights into this. ( and all MeFi comments, really... )
posted by mikelieman at 6:36 AM on March 30, 2018 [1 favorite]


Some are good, but most have fatal flaws.

They’re all good dogs. Usually the fatal flaw is having a poor choice in owner.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:48 AM on March 30, 2018


Should the protagonist have been named "Atari", given that that's a Japanese word (meaning "to hit the target") but isn't a Japanese name?

Don’t know if it’s applicable to the movie/character, but atari is also a term in the game Go.
posted by Celsius1414 at 10:53 AM on March 30, 2018


As a Japanese-American lady named Tracy, I'm not sure I can ever watch this film for fear of paralyzing cognitive dissonance.
posted by Diagonalize at 6:54 PM on March 30, 2018 [6 favorites]


Checking in as another pedant who got a severe case of the Unreasonable Hives when I saw they attached the wrong English words to the wrong kanji on the poster.

This film has sparked a LOT of discussion on appropriation and I think it's been very measured, with a lot of viewpoints expressed and a lot of differing conclusions drawn. Not only has this been fascinating to read through, but I've been grateful for it making the usual Greek chorus of "UGH, you fashionable cultural marxist idealogues are going to ruin a nice film for everyone" even more ridiculous than normal.
posted by ominous_paws at 9:16 AM on April 1, 2018 [1 favorite]


It felt weird that the character played by Yoko Ono was named Yoko-Ono. I don't think Anderson has ever explicitly name dropped a celebrity before, and I didn't like it.
posted by Going To Maine at 10:52 PM on April 1, 2018


One thing I don't think I've seen mentioned: Tracy's blonde afro is based on an inaccurate Japanese stereotype of Americans.

Having watched the movie, I think Tracy was a not-quite-successful attempt to reconcile the idea "dogs can't understand human speech" with the filmmakers' desire to have the narrative be plainly understood by the viewer. (Why else have her English be immediately understood by all Japanese people she spoke to?) Honestly I thought the whole mainland plot was a bit half-baked, and I wonder how many drafts the plot went through before the final version, because it felt a bit by-committee to me.
posted by showbiz_liz at 8:02 AM on April 2, 2018


An interesting and plausible take on "Isle of Dogs". C.S. Taniguchi's comment (scroll down) also provides additional insight. Why Americans Can’t See That “Isle of Dogs” Is About Japanese Politics

The American reaction to Wes Anderson’s “Isle of Dogs” has been one of enchanted confusion, along with concerns over cultural appropriation...But if “Isle of Dogs” is viewed against the backdrop of contemporary Japanese politics rather than our own, the film suddenly transforms from an impenetrably weird Wes Anderson flight of fancy, into a powerfully encoded piece of political propaganda. From this perspective, every detail and character (and even the film's title as a pun, just say it quickly) sharpens into a vibrant commentary on the future relationship between the United States and Japan, its closest Asian ally.
posted by whitelotus at 5:32 AM on April 3, 2018 [6 favorites]


The point is that you can have a simplistic fantasy version of a culture for entertainment purposes without erasing the actual culture, as long as you're not doing it in a way that paints the culture as some primitive backwards thing that white people have to save.

I dragged my feet on responding why this is wrong but I think Buzzfeed nailed it.

many people don’t want to believe that an homage can't also slight the culture it's putting onscreen.
posted by Borborygmus at 7:02 PM on April 4, 2018 [2 favorites]


Saw this and I think everyone should read it and agree with Teen Sheng because what they describe sounds way, way more right than the 'obvious.' There's also a nice note about the perspective of the critics watching the film so far.
posted by From Bklyn at 2:16 AM on April 11, 2018


That's the exact same article that whitelotus posted but with a different title and location. Weird.
posted by tofu_crouton at 5:48 AM on April 11, 2018


...and I should have read whitelotus’ link and saved the bytes and space but damn if it isn’t an interesting take on the film. Astute and likely correct.
posted by From Bklyn at 6:52 AM on April 11, 2018




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