We recommend movies to watch after you see Wes Anderson’s latest stop-motion animated film.
There is nothing else like a Wes Anderson movie, yet while he is an original auteur he does carry a lot of constant influences through his career, and each of his films also have their own specific cinematic inspirations. His latest, the stop-motion animated feature Isle of Dogs, for instance, is informed by and is a tribute to the classic Rankin-Bass holiday specials and Ray Harryhausen effects, as well as the work of Japanese masters Akira Kurosawa (whose birthday shares its release date), Hayao Miyazaki, Seijun Suzuki, and Yasujirô Ozu.
To help you navigate the new film’s pedigree, this week’s list of Movies to Watch After includes some of those specific connections as well as some other essential classics that I think are relevant and worth fetching. Check out the eight highlights plus additional viewing suggestions below.
Stray Dog (1949)
Kurosawa never made a sci-fi movie, and he never made a movie about actual dogs, but this early feature of his influenced by American detective films comes to mind in the absence of a literal link. And not just because of the title, which refers figuratively to the human lead, a cop played by a young Toshiro Mifune. He’s searching through a kind of garbage land just like the orphaned (read: stray) boy in Isle of Dogs, but it’s for his stolen pistol and the setting is simply Tokyo’s criminal underground.
Anderson actually was on hand for a Q&A at NYC’s Metrograph cinema on Wednesday after a screening of Stray Dog. The movie was part of a series he programmed of Kurosawa films that influenced his latest — the others being High and Low (which is particularly felt in the dynamic of Isle of Dogs‘s big deal villain who resembles Mifune and his relationship to a missing child), The Bad Sleep Well, Drunken Angel, I Live in Fear, and (my personal favorite) Ikiru. Basically the director’s “city films.” Some of these specifically informed the urban spaces of Isle of Dogs. “The look of Megasaki City came from the really urban, ’60s-set Kurosawa movies, from The Bad Sleep Well to High and Low,” Anderson told Texas Monthly.
Isle of Dogs also pays a good deal of homage to Kurosawa’s period-set films as well. The score for Seven Samurai is heard on the soundtrack at one point (as is the score for Drunken Angel), and the same movie gets some shot-for-shot reference too — for details on that and its tributes to Throne of Blood, Ran, and more, Vulture has a great guide to the Kurosawa Easter eggs. Stray Dog is also discussed there. But some eggs are likely still hidden given what Anderson said during a masterclass Q&A last year: “The reason to hide your [inspirations] is because you’re trying to steal them, and if you can sneak them in then you’ve gained something without having to lose something.”
Snoopy Come Home (1972)
While Rankin-Bass specials specifically inspired Wes Anderson’s interest in stop-motion animation, the “Peanuts” specials directed by Bill Melendez are one of the filmmaker’s biggest influences overall. Anderson expert Matt Zoller Seitz has addressed the connection in his writings and video essays as well as his book on Anderson. Supposedly there’s some nod to Charles Schultz’s iconic comic strip characters in every one of Anderson’s movies.
Perhaps the nod in Isle of Dogs is to this second theatrical “Peanuts” feature, which focuses on Snoopy’s trip to see his original owner in the hospital. Along the way, he encounters a lot of discrimination against dogs, though not as extreme as what happens to the canines in Anderson’s movie. Charlie Brown doesn’t go searching for his departed pet in Snoopy Come Home, but like Spots in Isle of Dogs Snoopy wouldn’t have initially wanted to be found anyway given that he had planned to go away for good.
The City of Lost Children (1995)
Both Isle of Dogs and this breakout work from French filmmakers Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro are set in a retro-future world where a segment of the population is being shipped off to a man-made island structure. And both movies follow a character teaming with a group representing the very segment that is disappearing — though he’s not easily able to communicate with them — in order to find the one missing among that faction that he has a loving link to.
Sorry if the wording is confusing, but I’m trying to compare children to dogs here. In The City of Lost Children, a circus strongman (Ron Perlman) searches for his little brother, one of many kids who have been abducted and sent to an offshore oil rig. Along the way he aligns with a bunch of stray children who haven’t been taken, befriending one little girl in particular. The strongman isn’t the most skillful with words, but also he’s played by an actor who didn’t speak the same language as the rest of the cast.
Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
I’m admittedly not that familiar with the work of Seijun Suzuki so don’t know what movie to recommend in relation to Isle of Dogs (I didn’t spot whatever homage there is), but I do know that Jim Jarmusch also pays the Japanese filmmaker respect in this movie, specifically referencing Suzuki’s 1967 hitman feature Branded to Kill. In Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, Jarmusch also nods to Kurosawa in the form of a copy of the book “Rashomon.” Starring Forest Whitaker as a mob hitman who lives and works following the code of the samurai, the movie is Jarmusch’s ode to Japanese cinema, as Isle of Dogs is the same for Anderson.
As far as a cultural tribute, Ghost Dog probably comes off more innocently than others, including the controversial Isle of Dogs. From Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1 to the Disney animated feature Big Hero 6, a lot of Japanese-inspired American movies with good intentions are still criticized for their cultural appropriation and fetishization. And then there’s all the whitewashing adaptations of anime. Ghost Dog isn’t quite as respectful of the Japanese as not being viewed as an “other” as, say, Clint Eastwood’s The Sands of Iwo Jima or Martin Scorsese’s Silence or even Hou Hsiao-hsien’s love letter to Ozu, Café Lumière, but it’s also just not too heavy in its Japanophilia. In fact, it’s really just a matter of the main character being a Japanophile, while the film itself is more inspired by the French film Le Samouraï by Jean-Pierre Melville.
Regarding the subject of language barriers and clever devices for translation, as Isle of Dogs is being both praised and criticized for, there’s a funny story about the initial release of Ghost Dog. When the movie first opened at the Angelika Film Center in NYC in 1999, for at least a week (maybe two), there were no subtitles on the print for when a French-speaking ice cream man (Isaach de Bankolé) is talking. Like many, I thought this was intentional on the part of Jarmusch, especially since the joke is that Ghost Dog doesn’t understand him but keeps saying the same thing he says anyway. With the subtitles, the joke is clearer and more literal for the non-bilingual audience members, maybe even overdone, and I still wonder if Jarmusch did in fact mean for there to be no subtitles but enough people complained and Artisan Entertainment added them after the fact for that reason.
Spirited Away (2001)
This is actually one of my least favorite Miyazaki films — not that I dislike it; I just enjoy many of his others more. But the Oscar-winning animated feature is one of his most popular and accessible, and due to its success at the box office and with the Academy, it’s probably been the biggest gateway for Americans to get into the filmmaker and Studio Ghibli productions overall. Spirited Away also seems to have the most direct link to Isle of Dogs by featuring the voice of Mari Natsuki — who plays “Yubaba” in the original-language version of Miyazaki’s film. (It’s actually kind of amazing that not one of the many main Isle of Dogs actors has ever participated in one of the Miyazaki English-language dubs.)
Spirited Away is also about a child navigating a strange world. Inspired by classic international children’s stories, like the equally surreal “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” and Japanese mythology, the movie is a kind of a Shinto pastiche fantasy. Miyazaki often pays tribute to his own nation’s cultural heritage while adapting it to his own wondrous, often downright bizarre aesthetic. When speaking of Isle of Dogs‘s influences at the Berlin Film Festival last month, Anderson did cite this film, albeit specifically for the casting connection, and said of the legendary animator’s general inspiration, “With Miyazaki you get nature and you get moments of peace and a kind of rhythm that is not in the American, for instance, animation tradition so much.”
Manufactured Landscapes (2006)
In an in-depth look at of Isle of Dogs by Architectural Digest, production designers Paul Harrod and Adam Stockhausen highlight many inspirations, from a Frank Lloyd Wright commission in Tokyo to the Ukiyo-e art movement, while for Trash Island specifically the team was influenced by the photography of Chris Jordan and Edward Burtynsky. The latter is the subject of this documentary by Jennifer Baichwal, focusing on a series of works made from a trip to China capturing such artificial landscapes as giant factories and other industrialized environments and the effects of man on nature. There are images of trash that look like the settings of Anderson’s movie.
Burtynsky is also the subject (and co-director) of another film by Baichwal called Watermark, which is more specifically focused on man’s control over water, including with dams. Jordan meanwhile has been featured in a few documentaries as well, mostly centered on man’s consumption and waste and what it’s doing to the world — one of them is Bag It, about the problem of plastic trash, and it puts a spotlight on the real trash island known as the Great Pacific garbage patch (on that specific subject, there’s also Garbage Island and Plastic Paradise). Another documentary I thought about while watching the Trash Island scenes in Isle of Dogs is the Oscar-nominated Waste Land, Lucy Walker’s profile of artist Vik Muniz as he works on a project involving scavengers working at Rio’s giant landfill Jardim Gramacho.
Barking Island (2010)
The plot of Isle of Dogs seems like it could only take place in the dark future of a sci-fi film, but a very similar scenario happened in real life and is a shameful moment in Turkish history. Known as the “Hayırsızada Dog Massacre,” the event involved an overrun of stray dogs in then-Constantinople in 1910 where all the animals were rounded up and shipped to the island of Sivriada, where they ultimately died by the tens of thousands due to starvation or dog-against-dog violence because of hunger or some other tragic fate. Apparently such a canine exile was attempted the century prior too, but public protests made the sultan Mahmud II bring back all the dogs.
Serge Avedikian’s Barking Island (aka Chienne d’histoire), which won the award for best short film at the 2010 Cannes Film Festival, is a uniquely animated depiction of the later, fully-carried-out Turkish isle of dogs story and is just 15 minutes in length. It’s a sad work for the literal plot, especially given that only the dogs are given a voice (but not like Anderson’s film, where the canines speak English), but it also works as a powerful allegory for the Armenian Genocide, which happened in the same territory just five years later. Also, once you’ve seen and know the tale of the dog massacre, last year’s hit documentary Kedi, about stray cats in Istanbul (not Constantinople), can be considered in a whole new light.
White God (2014)
One of the most unforgettable foreign films in recent years, White God is striking for its large ensemble of real dogs and the collective performance that director Kornél Mundruczó gets out of the animals. There’s some similarity in the premise to that of Isle of Dogs. A young girl’s new guardian (her biological father, but she hardly knows him) gets rid of her beloved mutt and she takes off in search of the pet. Meanwhile, the film also follows the dog’s narrative as he attempts to stay alive on the streets of the city, befriending other pups and eventually leading a sort of mass prison break and revolt.
Our own Rob Hunter described White God in his review as “the heartwarming quest for reunion from Homeward Bound meets the flesh-tearing mayhem of Man’s Best Friend, which is pretty apt. The movie has also been compared a lot to the Planet of the Apes films, which is also perfect as a link to Isle of Dogs — the crash landing of the kid, Atari, on Trash Island resembled to me Charlton Heston’s arrival on the Planet of the Apes in the 1968 original. If you prefer a more family friendly film about a child’s search and ultimate reunion with a lost dog, though, I recommend Richard Balducci’s silent 1968 short film Clown.