Is Isle of Dogs Cultural Appropriation? No its just mongoloid journalists writing clickbait articles.
Cultural appropriation is cultural theft. It is when a dominant culture adopts aspects of a minority culture. For example, say there was a ‘unique’ tumblr artist looking to spice up IT’S obscure art, but lacked the creativity to add anything with subtext and chooses to add random Chinese letters and symbols. That would be a good example of cultural appropriation as it ignores the cultural context. But say someone with talent made a film about obedience loyalty and respect and set the story in Japan. A culture which has heavy focuses on the latter themes. In my opinion that is not an example of cultural appropriation, unless you identify as a cultural journalist.
Without any spoilers Isle of Dogs is not cultural appropriation. The Guardian article may say otherwise, but the man writing it is the not official reviewer. In fact the ‘official’ Guardian journalist who reviewed Isle of Dogs (here) seemed to like the film and disagreed, to an extent, with the cultural appropriation viewpoint. Anyone who is able to explain what a three arc structure is smart enough to understand that the movie is anything but cultural appropriation. Anyone who says otherwise does not understand why the setting in a story is important.
Every theme brought forward by Isle of Dog is shown both positively and negatively through the comparisons of dogs and humans. The playful obedience of dogs fetching is deeply mirrored through the human land with imagery reminiscent of 1984’s big brother with posters and propaganda. Dogs show the negative extreme of loyalty with off screen dog characters supposedly killing themselves due to a lack of masters instructions, whilst human characters risk their lives and careers for their causes and comrades. Dogs spread rumors and attack one another due to a lack of respect, while supposed villainous human characters have so much respect that they allow views and aid the opposing side at their own risk. The movie covers many other themes like corruption, growing up and all the usual. These three in particular are reasons for why Isle of Dog should be set in Japan. Japan is filled with stories, media and historical moments centered around these themes.
A common argument from those who think Wes Anderson is the Grinch who stole Japanese culture is that the movie could of been set anywhere, and did not need to be in Japan. He could of set it in America, which would mean the themes of the movie would’ve meant less due to cultural subtext but forget subtext right? If it was set in LA, a bad character admitting he was wrong would mean little to audience members as it just seems like the rational thing to do. For a Japanese official to admit he was wrong holds drastically more weight as it links to cultural aspects of the region – like the Bushido Code, an unwritten samurai code of conduct. His sense of duty derived from real world aspects like this is what gives the character more depth and makes him more realistic. The entire story is framed as if it were a Japanese folk tale with its grim undertones, underdog (both literal and unilateral) characters and focus on Japanese hierarchy.
Another argument is that the dogs speaking English when they were raised in Japan is evidence for cultural appropriation – as it both white-washes and demeans the Japanese language. This is done to show the language barrier between animal and human, to highlight moments in the movie when the child is able to successfully communicate with the dogs. If the dogs just barked the whole way through the movie then we would end up with another Star Wars holiday special with creatures making noises for two hours. Big name white actors do take up voices for the dogs, but half the cast is entirely Asian and the main character is voiced by a someone with Japanese heritage.
Critics have also criticised the white savior character. Not that it holds any weight, as the character in particular does not save the day in any way and acts more like a narrator. That character stood out because she was annoying and fitted the out of place, forced love interest to our protagonist.
This movie was made by western creators for both western and eastern audiences. Having characters speak both English and Japanese means it will appeal to both English and Japanese audiences. The story was written by both English and Japanese writers, but because the majority is white men and women then it must be a bad thing.
Often when cases of cultural appropriation are brought up the supposed victimized culture is not the one to take offense or to raise alarm. Avril Lavigne was accused of appropriating in her song “Hello Kitty”. The music video depicted Asian women dressed up in matching outfits and Lavigne eating Asian food while dressed in a pink tutu. Its depiction of Japanese culture was met with widespread criticism, which has included suggestions of racism. Lavigne responded by stating “I love Japanese culture and I spend half of my time in Japan. I flew to Tokyo to shoot this video … specifically for my Japanese fans, with my Japanese label, Japanese choreographers and a Japanese director in Japan.” A lot of the feedback Lavigne received on Twitter was favorable, and those who blamed her for racism were mostly non-Japanese of course.
When the whole ‘Ghost in the Shell’ (starring Scarlett Johansson) white-washing situation erupted, little criticism came from Japanese people but instead white people with brightly-colored hair on their expensive Macs, paid for by their dads. We have yet to see the reception overseas, although in the global information age of the internet, there have been few complaints from the east. Maybe people from different cultures enjoy seeing aspects of their culture explored and enjoyed by people all over the world.
This is a RESPECTFUL portrayal of Japanese culture from my viewpoint. To suggest otherwise is to call for the progressive cultural segregation of our races.
The views of the individual writers on Cultivation UK are entirely their own.
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