Wes Anderson’s new movie ‘Isle of Dogs’ is under fire for the way it depicts Japanese culture and people

  • Wes Anderson’s new movie, “Isle of Dogs,” is a critical darling, with a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
  • But the film is garnering some backlash for its representation of Japanese culture.
  • A critic for the LA Times wrote about the film giving him pause, and his criticism of the movie received its own backlash on Twitter.

Wes Anderson’s new movie, “Isle of Dogs,” has received high praise from critics (it has a 93% rating on Rotten Tomatoes), but some critics are not happy with its depiction of Japanese culture and people.

The movie takes place in Megasaki, a dystopian Japanese city. A majority of the actors who voice dogs in the film are white including Bryan Cranston, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, and Scarlett Johansson. (At the beginning of the movie, viewers are informed that all of the dog’s barks have been translated into English.)

While some have criticised Anderson for white-washing in the film, the majority of the negative critical attention has to do with his representation of Japanese culture.

Los Angeles Times film reporter Justin Chang wrote a thoughtful review calling the film an “often captivating, sometimes irritating, unavoidably perplexing movie.” But he also took Anderson to task for the way he presented and interpreted Japanese culture as a white man.

“Bluntly put,” Chang writes, “does this white American filmmaker’s highly selective, idiosyncratic rendering of an East Asian society constitute a sincere act of homage, or a clueless failure of sensitivity?”

Chang finds that the movie is beautiful, the dogs “amazing,” but the story is its biggest flaw. “It’s in the director’s handling of the story’s human factor that his sensitivity falters, and the weakness for racial stereotyping that has sometimes marred his work comes to the fore.”

Jen Yamato of the LA Times came forward in support of Chang’s criticism of the movie. In a tweet, Yamato thanked Chang for “devoting far more attention than most critics will to many of the wilfully tone-deaf ways Wes Anderson appropriates and marginalizes Japanese culture and people in his so-called homage. It is ugly, indeed.”

Chang’s review also received some backlash on Twitter, however, with one user saying, “it’s a FILM FOR CHRIST’S SAKE!”

But Chang’s review, and Yamato’s support of it, helped others see the film in a different way.

Gizmodo entertainment reporter Germain Lussier wrote on Twitter, “This review is wonderful and opened my eyes to something I didn’t see in the movie myself. I wish others could read it in the same way I did and learn from it.”

Awards Circuit writer Karen Peterson also reconsidered the movie,writing, “Thank you for this. I enjoyed the film a lot, but the whole time I kept wondering how I would feel about it if this was my culture being depicted.”