Isle of Dogs: An Album Review

Reese Bennett, Columnist

Although I would never consider myself an extremely invested Wes Anderson fan, I do love a lot of his movies, and for me, it’s safe to say that “Isle of Dogs” did not disappoint. One of the best aspects of it for me was the music, composed by Academy Award-winning artist Alexandre Desplat, who also works on many other Anderson films. The tune of the music sets a crucial mood for both the entire movie and each little scene. There’s a Japanese theme that is present in most of the album, which helps the music blend with the movie well, and just like many of his movies, Anderson throws in a couple of 60s-70s songs; in this movie, it is “I Won’t Hurt You” by The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band. He also usually includes an instrumental piece whose tones vary, like the piece in this movie called “Midnight Sleighride Lieutenant Kije Suite” by The Sauter-Finegan Orchestra. Two recompositions, “Kikuchiyo’s Mambo,” a piece performed by the Toho Symphony from the movie “Seven Samurai,” and “Kosame No Oka,” by David Mansfield from the movie “Drunken Angel,” are both nods towards the renowned Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa.

Now we rewind to the first song of the original track, “Shinto Shrine.” This song definitely sets the eerie tone of the movie with its use of ominous vocals, clarinets, taiko drums, and more, and it defines what instruments and themes will be heard repeatedly. “Taiko Drumming” is one of the songs that includes more of a cultural Japanese tone, where Desplat uses legitimate Japanese drums during the beginning scene of the movie. “The Municipal Dome,” like “Shinto Shrine,” also does a fantastic job of conveying the unsettling theme of the movie. It communicates the scant resources the dogs have on Trash Island, the place they have been transported due to a disease they harbor. “Six Months Later + Dog Fight” introduce another recurring theme, a more aggressive sound that relays the apocalyptic kind of environment the dogs are living in, and is a typical tune that is played during fights, like in “Second Crash Landing + Bath House + Beach Attack.” For the dogs in the film, it’s a “dog-eat-dog” kind of world, and that kind of feel is smartly integrated in this song. The brass and windpipes of songs like “First Crash Landing,” “Jupiter and Oracle + Aboriginal Dogs,” and “Re-Election Night, Parts 1-3” develop suspense. Those two families of instruments also do well at creating a sense of sadness or kind of pain in “Kobayashi Canine Testing Laboratory,” where dozens of dogs were cruelly experimented on and abused. All the songs also go along something Anderson does often in his movies, which is material synecdoche. This is where there are defining props or items in each film that make the movie. In his music, the sound of the songs often sound as though they belong with the items that appear in each scene. An example of this would be in “Pagoda Slide,” a scene where the main human protagonist, Atari (Koyu Rankin), disobeys stray dog Chief’s (Bryan Cranston) advice and goes on a run-down, dysfunctional, and dangerous slide on Trash Island. The main item there is the slide and Atari, and the music is smooth, and also mischievous sounding, going along with the two main items that appear.

Alexandre Desplat’s album, a combination of the original track, recompositions, American psychedelia, and instrumental orchestra pieces, did a terrific job serving its purpose of creating mood and feelings to support the film’s scenes. The variety of music is what made this album, just like every other one of Desplat’s albums, entertaining to listen to. No matter what style of music, it all fits into Anderson’s way of doing things, and although “Isle of Dogs” is more eerie than his past flicks like “Fantastic Mr. Fox” or “Moonrise Kingdom,” it is still undoubtedly a captivating Wess Anderson film with an incredible soundtrack. I would rate it 9.5/10, since my taste in music didn’t match up with some of the songs in the track, but it still has many effective pieces.