Wes Anderson’s ‘Isle of Dogs’ Poster Has Lots of Akira Kurosawa (and Dogs)

By  · Published on April 26th, 2017

…Let’s hope the dogs don’t die.

On Tuesday, the first poster for Wes Anderson’s newest feature film since 2014’s The Grand Budapest Hotel was released. Whilst not much is known about the story of Isle of Dogs, its poster reveals small details about what to expect, and, more importantly, the influence of Akira Kurosawa on the stop-motion animation.

Set in Japan, the poster’s large, red font places the Japanese title at the center, with its English translation held within the script. Wes Anderson’s posters usually have either one clear defining image at the forefront or a depiction of the ensemble cast, so Isle of Dogs is a slight departure from what Anderson’s audience are used to.

The poster for The Royal Tenenbaums places family at the center while Anderson’s classic Futura font title stayed beneath the family as something that was not meant to draw attention. Moonrise Kingdom, The Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Darjeeling Limited follow in the same theme, albeit with variations based on the content of the film. Meanwhile, posters for Anderson’s earliest feature films Bottle Rocket and Rushmore place attention on the action: the font of Bottle Rocket’s title goes against the direction of the three friends’ guns, while the bullet coming towards the letters creates a sense of misdirection, hinting at the comedy within the film. Likewise, Max Fischer’s fist pump through Rushmore’s title at once represents his attachment to the school as well as his need to move through it. And then there’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and The Grand Budapest Hotel, with both of their posters placing an importance on the location in which the most pivotal scenes happen, Zissou’s submarine and Zero’s hotel.

What Anderson’s past posters show us is that the film’s titles rarely draw attention to themselves, and when they do it’s because they are intrinsically linked to their characters. With the large, red font on Isle of Dogs’s poster, then, audiences can expect a quieter film from Anderson. Whilst the director’s previous films have explored loneliness, they have done so around a breadth of different characters and personalities. However, with Isle of Dogs’ vast, empty white background and miniaturised character and dogs, it seems the film is going to focus on a single person in a desolate space. The looming of presence of the font serves to suggest the importance of the ever-present importance of the boy’s odyssey in searching for his dog.

The poster may not seem to be reminiscent of the busy and fast-paced Japan the general public know of through Tokyo, however it does call to the Japan created through the films of Akira Kurosawa. Anderson has said “the new film is less influenced by stop-motion movies than it is by Akira Kurosawa,” so viewers can expect the film to be a well-crafted homage to the influential director. And the mark of Kurosawa is everywhere on Isle of Dogs’ poster.

Kurosawa’s careful use of diegetic and non-diegetic sound (see: the key action scene in Seven Samurai) will no doubt have influenced Anderson’s own use. While the poster is purely visual, the cast list reveals that there are a couple of singers within the film, including Mari Natsuki and Nojira Noda. Perhaps viewers can expect a departure from Anderson’s use of music from the British Invasion and 60s/70s pop and rock, and instead create an original score as he did so for The Grand Budapest Hotel.

The stillness of the poster proves interesting as, as Tony Zhou at Every Frame a Painting notes, Kurosawa is the master of movement in all of its different forms. Audiences have seen a hint of a homage to Kurosawa’s movement in the rain sequence between George Clooney and Meryl Streep’s characters in Fantastic Mr. Fox, and Isle of Dogs’s poster, while still, suggests that this movement will continue. Not only does the central figure’s parachute and broken plane denote both a failure of mechanical machine as well as the movement of the natural world with the wind, but the clouds and/or fog at the very top of the poster reinstates the boy’s journey as he is framed between the ocean and the fog. There is nowhere to go but forwards. And, since Kurosawa perhaps used fog more effectively than any other filmmaker, his talent in this use of pathetic fallacy clearly displayed in Throne of Blood, it’s clear the Japanese director’s influence is creeping into Isle of Dogs once again.

The poster hints at some more narrative details of the film when compared with the previous glimpses Anderson has given us. As the director’s video for CrowdRise to support Martin Scorsese’s Film Foundation showed, the dogs of the film will talk. And the 2016 release of the concept poster for the film proves the character in this first official poster is the film’s protagonist, since both figures are wearing the same uniform.

Lastly, there’s one more important thing to bear in mind.The Tenenbaums’ dog Buckley survives a plane crash, but dies in a car crash. Pet dog Snoopy suddenly dies in a fight scene full of arrows and scissors in Moonrise Kingdom. The three-legged Cody gets hit by Jeff Goldblum’s character in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. Spitz the beagle is drugged with blueberries in Fantastic Mr. Fox. Dogs do not fare well in Anderson’s films, and since most of Isle of Dogs’ cast seem to be voicing dogs, and the fact that their are five dogs in the poster, this could be Anderson’s deadliest movie yet.

Isle of Dogs will be released in North America on April 20, 2018. See the poster below.

Freelance writer based in the UK.