‘Isle of Dogs’ director Wes Anderson discusses studies at UT, writing process

Chris Duncan

Known for his original stories and distinct art style, UT alum Wes Anderson is one of the most creative directors in Hollywood today. Anderson’s latest film, “Isle of Dogs,” is a return to stop-motion and a story of a dystopian future where dogs are quarantined to an island of trash due to “canine flu.” The Daily Texan spoke with Anderson about the upcoming film.

Daily Texan: How did studying philosophy and attending UT contribute to your career in writing and directing?

Wes Anderson: The thing I really spent most of my time on when I was there was writing short stories, and I took a number of creative writing classes. In particular, James Magnuson who (used to run) the Michener program at UT. He was a very good professor for both me and Owen Wilson. I had him for a couple of classes and I suggested him to Owen. I exchange emails with (Magnuson) every now and then.

DT: Was the inspiration for this movie something that came to you instantly, or did it take a while?

WA: The first idea for it came from the Isle of Dogs in London. I used to drive past it on the way to our studio where we made “Fantastic Mr. Fox,” and I just saw the sign that pointed to Isle of Dogs. The movie (is) kind of my imagination as to what that could possibly be, “Isle of Dogs.” (The story) really started to take shape when I brought my idea to Roman Coppola and Jason Schwartzman, and we already had thought we wanted to make a movie in Japan.

DT: Your choice to not translate many of the Japanese lines might confuse some. Why did you choose not to?

WA: As we started to invent the story, more and more we were writing scenes where they were speaking Japanese. Our biggest inspiration was Japanese cinema, and we wanted it to feel like a performance in a Japanese movie, which meant it had to be in Japanese. At the same time, we didn’t want a movie full of subtitles, so we found various different devices — a narrator, a translator, a machine, a foreign exchange student from Cleveland, Ohio.

As we were creating the movie, I liked it when people spoke Japanese and you didn’t understand what they said. You could focus on the language, and see how people are communicating. As soon as it’s translated, you focus on the translation. But when you’re not given the translation, you’re forced to work with what you’ve got … As a foreigner, and not a scholar, it’s still fun as a movie-lover to really use the Japanese language and make it a big part of the movie, including graphics and images on the screen.

DT: Was there any struggle breaking down Japanese lines of dialogue for the animation?

WA: I wouldn’t call it a struggle, but it’s a big task. It’s sort of what top level animators do no matter what. It’s a complicated, intricate and involved way of telling a story. And to have characters speak Japanese, especially the kind of characters we have with different faces, it’s a whole alphabet of faces.

DT: Beyond just a story of a boy and a journey to find his dog, what do you expect audiences to get out of this movie?

WA: I wouldn’t really approach it that way. I want to hear what their interpretation is or what they find in it that I didn’t even know was there. Sometimes, things can just come from your subconscious and it lines up with what you’ve written. Movies are long, and there can be a lot to interpret. To me, we made the thing. And now the movie has its own life.