Isle of Dogs exhibition in London: Explore Wes Anderson’s latest film’s sets
Pick any Wes Anderson film, and it deserves its own exhibition. The level of detail injected into every one of his gloriously symmetrical images can’t be fully absorbed in a single viewing. Cinema-goers want to watch the film again and study each shot like a painting or a sculpture – and we’re in luck. An exhibition for Anderson’s latest stop-motion adventure Isle of Dogs has come to London, showcasing 17 sets and over 40 puppets used in the movie.
Isle of Dogs follows a gang of democratic canines, exiled to Trash Island after the city of Megasaki is plagued by dog-flu. 12 year-old Atari hijacks a plane to reach the island, in order to find his dog Spots. The gang help Atari cross the island. The Upcoming was excited to attend the exhibition prior to its opening on the 23rd March.
Walking through, you’re hit straight away with the elevated presence of a noodle bar that leads into a Megasaki street with tables lined up. The bar serves Japanese Ramen cooked by chef Akira Shimizu – reigning from the Engawa restaurant in Soho – which can be consumed at one of the tables.
After a good meal, visitors can proceed into the main display room. The lofty city of Megasaki stands before you, small yet massive. It’s as if, having just eaten noodles, you suddenly ascend into the sky and look down from above – gazing at the whole damn city. The model is large and detailed, reminiscent of the “big-atures” featured in the Lord of the Rings movies because of their scope and scale – an impression that will stick with viewers as they float around the other displays.
The exhibit features set-ups from specific moments in the film. We have an army of robot dogs standing in formation, the authoritarian Mayor Kobayashi taking a bath, and the opening Trash Island stand-off with a rival faction of dogs. But these are tiny compared to the huge displays standing deeper in the room.
There’s a massive crimson stage with Kobayashi’s Big Brother-like face towering over the tiny puppets on the platform below. Opposite that is the abode of Jupiter, the wisest of the dogs on Trash Island, and Oracle the prophetic pug. Not only is the set colourful and sumptuous, but it also contains multiple layers inside – accommodating a long, cinematic depth-of-field. This is bettered once we reach the end of the room, behind a white wall, where stands the set for a bar that Yoko Ono frequents in the film. It’s built inside a long, narrow tube – allowing us to view it like a one-point perspective shot. We’re not simply seeing the sets, we’re looking through the eccentric eyes of Wes Anderson.
But the best display, by far, is Atari’s crashed plane – having landed in a massive pile of discarded newspapers. Not only are we given Anderson’s aerial, top-down view of the plane, but the set is crafted with stupefying detail. This latter point may be facile, and a trait shared with every display in the exhibition, but visitors have to physically see and study it to understand. The individual scraps of plane are spread around the fallen vehicle, and each newspaper (smaller than a sticky-note) has their own front-page story.
Unlike watching Isle of Dogs at the cinema, where shots would only last a few seconds, this exhibition allows us to examine them up close. Every plane-part, every dog-hair, every bottle in the bar is visible to marvel at. It makes one skip to the future and wonder whether these models will be wheeled out again as pieces of animation history, in the same way that Ray Harryhausen’s creatures are lauded today. But, leaving this idealism aside, it’d probably be best to catch this exhibition while you can.
Photo: Jack Hems, The Store X, 2018
The Isle of Dogs Exhibition is at The Store X on The Strand in London from 23rd March until 5th April 2018. For further information visit The Stores website here.