Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

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Cde.
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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#126 Post by Cde. » Mon Apr 02, 2018 8:07 am

Brian C wrote:I've read a lot of complaints about the character of Tracy Walker, too, and while I don't presume to speak for Japanese audiences, I wonder if that character won't be better received in Japan. It seemed to me that making the loud, brash busybody character an American was one of the film's jokes, and one that foreign audiences all too familiar with our boorishness will pick up on more easily than a lot of us Americans, especially since she's a secondary protagonist, clearly far behind Atari in terms of both the filmmakers' sympathy and actual amount of heroism performed. And I wonder if some of the film's critics haven't picked up on this on some level too, and that's a reason for their discomfort with the character - for all the railing against American cultural hegemony, a movie that makes a joke at our expense is maybe deep down still a bridge too far for some people.
I think this is way too generous a reading of the character, given that Tracy's brash busybody tendencies end up being necessary for
SpoilerShow
saving the day. The cure wouldn't be there if she wasn't there to yell at Yoko Ono (man, what a weird decision that character is). The Japanese are apparently too passive and conformist to notice or stand up against Kobayashi's genocidal fascism and need a plucky American to point it out to them.
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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#127 Post by Brian C » Mon Apr 02, 2018 9:18 am

Cde. wrote:I think this is way too generous a reading of the character, given that Tracy's brash busybody tendencies end up being necessary for
SpoilerShow
saving the day. The cure wouldn't be there if she wasn't there to yell at Yoko Ono (man, what a weird decision that character is). The Japanese are apparently too passive and conformist to notice or stand up against Kobayashi's genocidal fascism and need a plucky American to point it out to them.
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Well, yes, Tracy plays a role. I never said otherwise, just that the role she played was secondary to Atari's. And if the best you've got is
SpoilerShow
her yelling at Yoko Ono,

then I feel that you've made my case for me.

Seriously-
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It was a Japanese character that made the rescue mission to Trash Island and later got the mayor to back down after Tracy had failed to do so, Japanese people who actually stood in political opposition to the mayor and subsequently developed the serum, and a Japanese hacker that eventually ended up saving all the dogs.
But one white character yells at someone and none of that matters, I guess. Frankly, I would suggest that you're working far harder than the movie to whitewash the Japanese characters away.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#128 Post by Ribs » Mon Apr 02, 2018 9:45 am

Can you stop with the accusations of us being the really problematic ones? Again, I literally did not even mean to bring up this conversation and that's why I talked around it in my post: I find Anderson's decision that's most questionable not that he chose to undermine the characters by making them basically agenda-less without having an American around to help, but that he makes the fact of that the literal first joke of the movie. I basically only minded it in that context. And also I'd appreciate it if you'd not claim, arbitrarily, that Japanese people would not find it questionable with absolutely nothing to support that claim. Because they are a group of people and not a monolithic mass, it seems literally certain that while quite a few would find these decisions totally fine, there would also be a good amount that don't agree and are just as troubled as the "woke" thinkpiece writers. It may be 1% or less (I don't imagine it would be that low, but whatever) of the viewing audience - but that doesn't mean they're wrong or dumb, it means they felt off about it and wish something else had been done. I really don't understand why Anderson felt the need to bother, and I hate that this is the solution he engineered. I'm sorry if you think I'm just trying to demonstrate how woke I am because, again, I really do genuinely feel this unease about the entire thing. I'm not nor is anyone in any of these articles we've been discussing telling you to feel bad for liking it, but consider that others may be more discerning than you are without anyone actually being wrong.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#129 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Apr 02, 2018 10:37 am

I agree with Ribs on the idea of just sort of applying one's own biases to people who they don't know, assuming *insert Japanese person here* is going to be permissive of everything Anderson does in Isle of Dogs because you didn't see a problem with it.

Also, I think both Ribs and myself (not trying to put words in your mouth, Ribs), don't even find it to be all that much of a problem. Speaking for myself, it's just sort of a tonal stone in the film's shoe that doesn't quite work right. It doesn't play as "racist" to me, but that doesn't mean every decision Anderson has made is absolutely infallible, either. It's got an odd relationship to Japanese culture and to the Japanese language, and just because it's going to be a little YMMV whether that even registers with or bothers someone doesn't make anyone wrong or anyone right.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#130 Post by Brian C » Mon Apr 02, 2018 10:44 am

Ribs wrote:Can you stop with the accusations of us being the really problematic ones?
No. Why should I? Because it's more fun to lob accusations than to be on the receiving end of them? I'm certainly not going to submit to terms of an argument that makes one side automatically immune from pushback, and I'm not asking for any such concession myself.

You're putting a lot of weight on the fact that you're "genuinely" uneasy about the movie - has it occurred to you that perhaps I feel the same way about the kinds of criticisms that I've responded to in this thread? Well, fine - I hereby deem your offense genuine - so what? It doesn't change the fact that I feel the criticisms you're making are misguided and poorly thought out.

I've not just explained at length what I feel but why I feel that way. You, on the other hand, are just repeating over and over again that you're offended without really explaining why. For example, you've claimed that the movie "co-opted" the "agency" of its Japanese characters and that the movie rendered the characters "basically agenda-less". I've addressed why I think these claims are misguided, but you've yet to explain what you even mean by this - you're just leaning on social justice buzzwords that I don't see have any meaning when applied the way you're applying them ("agency", really?). And you've claimed that the lack of subtitles in Bottle Rocket isn't relevant in part because "it wasn't conceived as a ode to Latino culture" without explaining ... well, why this isn't a completely arbitrary standard that you just made up on the spot.

If, as you claim, you're reluctant to have this conversation, then that's fine. But constantly popping in to repeat your claims and then being offended when someone pushes back is just trying to have it both ways.
And also I'd appreciate it if you'd not claim, arbitrarily, that Japanese people would not find it questionable with absolutely nothing to support that claim.
This is farcically ironic coming from someone whose entire claim is that a foreign people are being disrespected based the "unease" he felt, presumably on their behalf, while watching a movie.

And seriously, come on, I did no such thing - I speculated that one character might "be better received" in Japan, and I specifically added a disclaimer that I was not presuming to speak for Japanese audiences, which anyone reading in good faith really ought to take as an acknowledgment that I recognize I might be wrong. And yes, you're correct, Japanese people are not monolithic on their views - that ought to go without saying, especially since I never even remotely implied otherwise.

Look, if you want to avoid being tagged as disingenuous, it would help if you'd avoid such obvious points-scoring tactics as this.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#131 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Apr 02, 2018 10:52 am

Brian C wrote:And you've claimed that the lack of subtitles in Bottle Rocket isn't relevant in part because "it wasn't conceived as a ode to Latino culture" without explaining ... well, why this isn't a completely arbitrary standard that you just made up on the spot.
Are you deliberately missing the point of what Ribs was saying there? It's pretty obvious that Bottle Rocket has a much different relationship toward Latino culture than Isle of Dogs does to Japanese culture - it just seems like you're being needlessly petty when you say things like this, and it isn't helping your argument.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#132 Post by Ribs » Mon Apr 02, 2018 11:02 am

Image

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#133 Post by John Shade » Mon Apr 02, 2018 11:13 am

If I remember right, the very brief moments of French in Grand Budapest were translated. It was pretty mundane, like Mathieu Amalric asking for a frame. At this point I don't know which argument this helps or where the argument is, I just need to contribute more and actually see this movie, which I think can happen in two weeks.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#134 Post by Shrew » Mon Apr 02, 2018 11:20 am

I enjoyed this, but it’s lower-tier Anderson for me, down with Darjeeling Limited. It’s technically great and the allegory is quite striking, but narratively there’s too much and too little going on, and with so many characters, you end up with a lot of arcs that last all of one scene. And while, as was pointed out, Anderson’s films have long had strong “chapter”/literary structures, I do think they used to be a bit shaggier, with more room for divergences.

Anyway, Cultural Appropriation is not a useful framework for discussing this film or its issues. People, here and on Twitter, on both sides of this issue, keep ignoring how both articles linked basically say “Hm, this isn’t cultural appropriation, but I had this and this issue with it.” There are legitimate issues with how the film presents Japanese people and uses language. That does not mean the film is a BAD FILM BURN IT NOW!, just that it has issues that are part of greater problem of the representations of Asians and Asian Americans in the US.

Language—Having the dogs speak English but not understand Japanese is a clever conceit, and it works perfectly with the Atari scenes. Japanese is filled with many English loan words and phrases, so it gives the listener a sense of what it might be like to be a dog with a rudimentary grasp of human language, where only a few key words are recognizable (sitto, biscuito, gudu boyu). And there's a strong enough emotional bond between him and the dogs that there's no real distancing.

However, keeping up the conceit in the Megasaki scenes is questionable. There are no “dog” characters in these scenes to align our point of view with (this is the big difference with Inez—our POV there is always with the boys). Anderson adds various human translators, but the question then becomes, “Who are they translating for?” There’s no in-film audience for the English translation, so the assumption is that they’re translating for us—but there’s no other clear 4th wall break. The whole thing adds a distancing effect that makes the Japanese characters seem more “other” than if they had just used subtitles. Add to that the fact that both the Translator and Jr. Translator are Asian puppets voiced by white actors (McDormand and the kid who led Moonrise Kingdom’s Criterion commentary).

Still, I don’t think this is offensive so much as not fully thought through. Had they included some “dog” spy hiding in the vents and witnessing these interactions, the film’s approach to language would have been much more consistent.

Tracy—I agree that Anderson wanted an outsider character who would push back against the system, and there’s arguably an existing template for the “rude”/pushy foreigner in Japanese media (characters like Asuka in Evangelion). But the character does have the effect of making the rest of the Japanese overly passive, which plays into certain stereotypes about the culture (and while there is another active Japanese character, he has no dialogue, which plays into yet another stereotype). I think ultimately Atari is a strong enough protagonist that “white savior” claims are overstated, but I wouldn’t begrudge people feeling iffy about it.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#135 Post by mfunk9786 » Mon Apr 02, 2018 11:44 am

Shrew, I enjoyed your write-up, especially because you touch on something important - if the film were better, none of this would be much of a conversation. What came first, the chicken or the egg, I don't know (Would Anderson need to have not made some of these questionable decisions for it to be better? Would they merely be able to be ignored if the plot were more compelling?), but at the end of the day it just isn't his strongest narrative or dialogue and that makes these blemishes rise to the surface.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#136 Post by whaleallright » Mon Apr 02, 2018 11:50 am

The question "Who are they translating for?" seems to me similar to asking "To whom is Alec Baldwin reading?" about Royal Tenenbaums. The answer needn't make complete sense within the diegetic world, because the diegetic world in a Wes Anderson film is already ridden with overt artifice, and presented as a story being told and told again. "Breaking the fourth wall" seems an almost redundant description of aspects of films that are so thoroughly narrationally self-conscious, constantly addressing the audience through voice-over, captions, chapter titles, and so forth. The use of the translators here feels in keeping with that. I don't know if it was the most elegant solution—I thought it was awkward sometimes—but I sympathize with Anderson's desire to avoid subtitles. I think that was as much a graphic decision as anything else; subtitles would distract the audience from scanning the very dense frames. When Anderson uses text onscreen, he does so deliberately, as an integral part of the composition.

I suppose an objection might be that the translators' function (and the premise of some of the verbal gags) presumes a primarily English-speaking audience, but I think Wes Anderson, who almost certainly has a primarily English-speaking audience, can be forgiven for that. I doubt anyone here would take a Japanese filmmaker to task for making a film—even one about a foreign culture—that presumes a Japanese audience (think of Suzuki's Capone Cries a Lot, or maybe don't). A Japanese viewer could feel disappointed that they are effectively a secondary audience, but I think plenty of us are fairly comfortable with viewing "foreign" films at a similar remove, and can even enjoy the process of learning to appreciate how the films address their primary audience. (Indeed, such films can be more interesting than festival films designed for an international art-house audience.)

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#137 Post by Shrew » Mon Apr 02, 2018 12:05 pm

But the translators are diegetic. Baldwin is not. That's why it's far more confusing in Isle of Dogs.

And yeah, the problem here is the intended audience. That's why you're seeing complaints from Asian Americans far more than Asians. Asian Americans are part of that English-speaking audience, but feel ignored and overlooked by films like this.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#138 Post by whaleallright » Wed Apr 04, 2018 3:26 pm

Is Baldwin not diegetic at all? He purports to exist in the same world as the Tenenbaums, even if he doesn't appear in frame. What about the narrators in Grand Budapest? Or Bob Balaban in Moonrise Kingdom, who is somehow both a minor character in the drama and an omniscient narrator? I think one of the effects of the narrational self-consciousness of Anderson's films is a blurring of the line between diegetic and extradiegetic material.
Shrew wrote:And yeah, the problem here is the intended audience. That's why you're seeing complaints from Asian Americans far more than Asians. Asian Americans are part of that English-speaking audience, but feel ignored and overlooked by films like this.
This makes no sense to me, and I fail to see how the "intended audience"—which isn't an "intended audience" as much as a primary audience, which hardly precludes a secondary and so on—is a "problem." Why would "Asian Americans" (all of them?) feel "ignored and overlooked" by a film that includes, I believe, one American character?

The issue I raised and you responded to is one of language. The film's design doesn't address itself primarily to a specific ethnicity, just to folks who speak English. That would include most Asian Americans, as well as most African Americans, Jewish Americans, Russian Americans, Arab Americans, and so forth. Not to mention Britons and Australians of all ethnicities.

I still have yet to see anything on this board that actually describes what harms are supposedly being done by this film, or anything in it, with the slightest specificity or conviction. I feel there is nothing Anderson could have done, barring deciding not to take on a Japanese subject at all, so as to avoid these criticisms, since they seem only very flimsily based on the actual content of his film. If Isle of Dogs had subtitled the Japanese dialogue, or not had a single American character, or had the dogs speaking in gibberish rather than English, the same clicking tongues and tones of vague disapproval—coupled with the imprecise invocation of buzzwords like "representation" and "appropriation," which serve in real argument's stead— would persist in corners of the internet.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#139 Post by Ribs » Wed Apr 04, 2018 4:28 pm

whaleallright wrote:I feel there is nothing Anderson could have done, barring deciding not to take on a Japanese subject at all, so as to avoid these criticisms
Yes, that's right.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#140 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Apr 05, 2018 12:07 am

Ribs wrote:
whaleallright wrote:I feel there is nothing Anderson could have done, barring deciding not to take on a Japanese subject at all, so as to avoid these criticisms
Yes, that's right.
So, Ribs, are you taking the position that Anderson has no business making a work that involves any culture other than highly-educated, well-off white Americans?

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#141 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Apr 05, 2018 12:31 am

Funny you say that, because I think his use of exactly those people makes The Darjeeling Limited feel much more culturally settled. He explores the differences and similarities between his flawed leads and the culture they find themselves in. But in Isle of Dogs the Japanese characters might as well just be, well, cartoons - and there’s no “way in” to those cartoons to attempt to explain why they’re characterized that way.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#142 Post by whaleallright » Thu Apr 05, 2018 7:02 am

Michael Kerpan wrote:So, Ribs, are you taking the position that Anderson has no business making a work that involves any culture other than highly-educated, well-off white Americans?
This is the endpoint of a lot of the more extreme "cultural appropriation" arguments: a kind of cultural essentialism—nobody can write or talk about experiences other than those that "belong" to whatever group they are said to be part of— whose underlying logic is difficult to distinguish from the ethno-nationalism of the extreme right.

A big problem here is that a limited variety of cultural categories are prioritized as decisive, and thus reified, while other things that might link people's experiences are dismissed as unimportant. It's not only that it's insulting and counterproductive to say that a Jewish person can't write about an Asian person (or, per the extreme right, inhabit the same nation), but it's dangerous to impose such categories as the defining terms by which people must be understood. This denies the variety within the categories along with the continuities among them. It's reductive and insulting to all parties, and a fundamentally broken way of understanding the world.

Anyway, we were talking about dog puppets....

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#143 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Apr 05, 2018 2:46 pm

mfunk -- Takahata's tanuki drama. Pom Poko, is almost totally unconcerned with its human characters -- except as enemies, foils, victims, etc. How is this (significantly) different from what Anderson is doing?

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#144 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Apr 05, 2018 3:41 pm

Because the Japanese characters in Isle of Dogs are othered by their lack of subtitled dialogue and gags about how the dogs can't understand them? But Tracy, the lone American human character, runs the show and rallies the Japanese human characters to save the day. Not being directly familiar with Pom Poko, I don't see how what you're saying has much in common with Isle of Dogs.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#145 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Apr 05, 2018 3:49 pm

The humans in Pom Poko are little more than "cartoon characters". Alas, the humans in this are not rally-able (or scare-able) and blithely wreak immense environmental harm.

Looks like I won't manage to actually see Isle until NEXT week.

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#146 Post by hearthesilence » Thu Apr 05, 2018 3:52 pm

Tracy's role is getting overblown. She was the LOUDEST about doing what's right, nearly becoming an obnoxious American caricature, but she's one of at least a dozen key figures, and I didn't come away from the film crediting her with doing the most to "save the day."

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#147 Post by swo17 » Thu Apr 05, 2018 4:35 pm

Michael Kerpan wrote:
Ribs wrote:
whaleallright wrote:I feel there is nothing Anderson could have done, barring deciding not to take on a Japanese subject at all, so as to avoid these criticisms
Yes, that's right.
So, Ribs, are you taking the position that Anderson has no business making a work that involves any culture other than highly-educated, well-off white Americans?
I think the point is that no matter how well intentioned, one cannot make a film like this without causing someone offense.

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Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#148 Post by Brian C » Thu Apr 05, 2018 4:37 pm

mfunk9786 wrote:Because the Japanese characters in Isle of Dogs are othered by their lack of subtitled dialogue and gags about how the dogs can't understand them?
Should the dogs be able to understand them? Or should the movie just not make jokes about how different species don’t communicate well? If Anderson took this communication gap more seriously, would it be ok?

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#149 Post by Michael Kerpan » Thu Apr 05, 2018 4:38 pm

Query: Do the dogs "understand: the English spoken by the American character?

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Re: Isle of Dogs (Wes Anderson, 2018)

#150 Post by mfunk9786 » Thu Apr 05, 2018 5:16 pm

Brian C wrote:
mfunk9786 wrote:Because the Japanese characters in Isle of Dogs are othered by their lack of subtitled dialogue and gags about how the dogs can't understand them?
Should the dogs be able to understand them? Or should the movie just not make jokes about how different species don’t communicate well? If Anderson took this communication gap more seriously, would it be ok?
I don't think those jokes with the dogs would be a problem if the audience could understand that dialogue. But both in tandem absolutely serves to make the Japanese characters feel like the "other" in comparison to the dogs and the English-speaking American character, in a film set in and about Japan. That remains so strange to me.
Michael Kerpan wrote:Query: Do the dogs "understand: the English spoken by the American character?
Not sure I remember Tracy interacting with any of the dogs.
swo17 wrote:I think the point is that no matter how well intentioned, one cannot make a film like this without causing someone offense.
The bummer with this film is that some are contending that these are merely tonal and/or structural problems with the film itself, not that it out & out caused them to be offended or they're taking offense to it. That word has become so charged anyway that it's simultaneously far too strong and practically worthless anymore.

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