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Isle of Dogs

SXSW Movie Review: Wes Anderson’s ‘Isle of Dogs’ a Dog’s-Eye-View of the World

In Isle of Dogs, Wes Anderson’s stop-motion/animated film, he gives us the dog’s-eye-view of a corrupt city boss who exiles all the dogs of Megasaki City to a vast garbage-dump called Trash Island. The film premiered to a sold-out crowd in Austin’s classic Paramount Theatre at SXSW. After the film, Anderson and cast members answered questions.

The Story

Atari Kobayashi, 12-year-old ward to corrupt Mayor Kobayashi, faces a crisis. By the Mayor’s executive decree, all the canine pets of Megasaki City are exiled to a garbage dump on an island.

Atari sets off alone in a miniature airplane and flies across to the island, searching for his bodyguard-dog, Spots, played by Liev Schreiber. There, he finds a pack of mongrels led by the dog Chief, played by Bryan Cranston. They help him in his quest to rescue the dogs and make the kids and dog lovers of Megasaki happy again.

That Dog Sounds Familiar

Isle of Dogs
Wes Anderson on ‘Isle of Dogs’ red carpet

The principal cast is an all-star parade: Bryan Cranston, Koyu Rankin, Edward Norton, Bob Balaban, Bill Murray, Jeff Goldblum, Kunichi Nomura, Akira Takayama, Greta Gerwig, Frances McDormand, Akira Ito, Scarlett Johansson, Harvey Keitel, F. Murray Abraham, Yoko Ono, Tilda Swinton, Ken Watanabe, Mari Natsuki, Anjelica Huston, Nijiro Murakami, Liev Schreiber, and Courtney B. Vance.

Anderson was joined on the red carpet before the screening by Murray, Balaban, Goldblum, and Nomura. Before the lights went down for the film, SXSW staff promised that the Q&A would be run by a surprise host.

Questions and Laughs

Austin favorite Robert Rodriguez showed up as the surprise host and the audience cheered. Before the Q&A started, under Rodriguez direction, SXSW took a picture of the audience from the stage. Most of the audience was adorned in souvenir headbands inspired by the movie.

Rodriquez brought out Anderson first and the two reminisced about their first meeting at Sundance in the early 1990s. Rodriguez was promoting El Mariachi and Anderson Bottle Rocket.

Isle of Dogs
Robert Rodriguez interviews Wes Anderson at SXSW screening of ‘Isle of Dogs’

Rodriguez asked Anderson about the inspiration for Isle of Dogs.

“It started,” Anderson explained, “when I was working on Fantastic Mr. Fox in London. I was on the way to the studio and I saw a sign for a road that said Isle of Dogs. It sounded so mysterious, I was curious and followed it. Now it’s a shipping yard, but originally it was where the King kept his hunting dogs. And that was the beginning of the movie: seeing that sign.”

Rodriguez said how much he loved the artistic collection of writers and actors that Anderson had gathered around him for this project. They then brought to the stage Murray, Goldblum, Nomura, and Balaban.

Rodriguez asked if Anderson had these actors in mind when he was writing the script.

“No,” Anderson replied, “I was working on it with my old friends Jason Schwartzman and Roman Coppola and in this one, we were really thinking of just dogs. We didn’t have any humans in mind.”

The Process

Rodriguez asked, “Did you rewrite as you went along?”

Isle of Dogs
Bill Murray on ‘Isle of Dogs’ red carpet

“Well, at the first recording session, Bill was there, Bob, Bryan Cranston and Edward Norton,” Anderson said. “It was kind of like a rehearsal. We mic’ed everybody and did everything. We kept it going for two days and anything can become part of this. It’s a really kind of free way to work.”

Anderson asked the cast to chime in.

Murray got laughs, replying, “Yeah, I really hate working with Wes Anderson.”

Rodriguez asked Murray if there was anything that Anderson might ask him to do that he would refuse.

“There is one thing,” Murray replied, “but, if I said it here, I’d probably get you in trouble, so I’d rather let the mystery lie there. Seriously, it’s been a joy to make movies with Wes.”

The Mayor

Rodriguez asked Nomura how he met Wes and got involved in the project.

Nomura recalled, “I met Wes through Sophia Coppola. I worked with Bill on Lost in Translation. Then three years ago, Wes sent me an email saying, ‘I’m making a movie about Japan.’ I wasn’t sure what he wanted me to do, but then he told me that my voice sounded really evil and he wanted me to be the mayor character.”

Anderson explained, “His voice is really deep for his body. He told me that when he was in high school, there was this girl he was dating, but when he would call, her father wouldn’t let him talk to her because he thought he was in his forties.”

Alone and Together

Rodriquez complimented Goldblum on his character. “I was always able to pick you out,” he said. “Did you do much improvisation?”

Isle of Dogs
Jeff Goldblum on ‘Isle of Dogs’ red carpet

Goldblum said, “No, Wes came to me with the character and I wasn’t able to join the group, so, I did my bits alone in a studio with Wes on the phone. It was beautifully and meticulously written. I just did the lines. But seeing it tonight, it must be gratifying for you guys and Wes seeing it all come together. I think I understood for the first time with this audience, seeing it through their eyes. It works like gangbusters. It’s literally a masterpiece. Wes, did you enjoy seeing it?”

Anderson replied, “Yes, this will probably be the only time I will ever see it, because, of course, it will never be as good as tonight.”

Isle of Dogs is in theaters now. The cast, in their animal form, talks about dogs and the film in the clip below.

Photos by author

About Leo Sopicki

Writer, photographer, graphic artist and technologist. I focus my creative efforts on celebrating the American virtues of self-reliance, individual initiative, volunteerism, tolerance and a healthy suspicion of power and authority.

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