Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs sparks cultural appropriation controversy
Wes Anderson’s new film Isle of Dogs is generating controversy for its depiction of Japanese culture, ahead of its theatrical release on Friday.
Written and directed by Anderson, the stop-motion film is set in a dystopian future Japan where dogs have been sequestered to a remote island due to an outbreak of “canine flu,” and the plot centers on one boy’s mission to find his own lost pup. Murmurs of cultural appropriation and insensitivity have followed the film since its award-winning premiere at the Berlin Film Festival last month, and now as its official release nears, criticisms are becoming more widespread.
Among the elements of the film sparking controversy are Anderson’s decision to have the dogs speak English while the residents of Megasaki City speak native Japanese; the fact that the vast majority of the voice cast is not East Asian; and, as Los Angeles Times critic Justin Chang puts it in his review of the film, the fact of a “white American filmmaker’s highly selective, idiosyncratic rendering of an East Asian society.”
Isle of Dogs remains a well-received film, with its Rotten Tomatoes score above 90%; EW’s own Leah Greenblatt praised the movie’s “endearing, complicated humanity.” Neither a representative for Anderson nor the film’s distributor, Fox Searchlight, provided immediate comment on the controversy.
Speaking to EW recently about the inspiration for the film, though not about the controversy specifically, Anderson said, “The movie is a fantasy, and I would never suggest that this is an accurate depiction of any particular Japan. This is definitely a reimagining of Japan through my experience of Japanese cinema.”
Stephen Gong, the executive director of the Center for Asian American Media, said in a statement to EW about the controversy, “This film is part of a larger oeuvre that includes films like The Darjeeling Unlimited that uses ‘exotic’ people and locations as window dressings. Anderson’s aesthetic hasn’t evolved despite the larger conversations sweeping the industry. This is just one example of why there still needs to be more films directed by women, people of color, and people from other marginalized communities.”
Below, we’ve rounded up a sampling of critical reactions to Isle of Dogs, some of which are in response to Chang’s review.