In Wes Anderson’s latest pic, Isle of Dogs, he continues to give his diorama storytelling whimsy to tell the story of a young boy (Koyu Rankin) in Japan looking for his lost dog after all the canine pets have been exiled to a garbage dump. The stop-motion animated feature has all the Wes Andersonisms expected from his arsenal of curio cabinet parable charm, but all of it is elevated by Kunichi Nomura, an actor-writer-radio personality that came on board as a co-writer to ensure the accuracy of the Japanese-centric film.
Nomura joined the Isle of Dogs team after Anderson and company developed the story — but he isn’t a stranger to the Anderson-Coppola collective. He previously appeared in Anderson’s Grand Budapest Hotel and in Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. But in Anderson’s latest, he takes on a bigger role, providing a point of view to make sure the film has an actual Japanese voice present to help steer the story and respects the Japanese culture the right way.
“Wes had a clear idea of what he wanted to do,” Nomura tells Deadline. “I helped make it authentic while keeping his vision.”
Hollywood hasn’t had the greatest track record of whitewashing and appropriating Asian culture (remember the backlash of casting Emma Stone in Aloha? The casting of Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell? Matt Damon in The Great Wall?). With Isle of Dogs, Anderson makes an effort to sidestep this trap thanks to the help of Nomura. As a native of Japan, Nomura says that Anderson reached out for his help and was always asking him questions about details about the film. More than that, the Japanese characters are voiced by Japanese characters in their native tongue — often without subtitles. This includes the aforementioned Rankin, Yoko Ono, and Nomura himself. Meanwhile, all the dogs and some of the racially ambiguous characters are voiced by Americans. This gives the movie a sense of authenticity that Nomura says Anderson hoped to achieve with this original fable of displaced canines.
Nomura liked the story, “the first draft was interesting” and thought that its a story that could happen in Japan. “I thought it was challenging to be the only Japanese person in the core team,” but was eager to help make the story details such as the dialogue and general look & feel of the film as accurate as possible.
Nomura lives in Tokyo and while there, he would cast and record other Japanese actors to voice more of the characters in the film. Through the recording process, he fell into the role of voicing the villainous Mayor Kobayashi — something that he didn’t expect.
“It was funny, Wes asked me to record the major Japanese roles,” he said. “In the end, Wes said my voice sounded like the evil mayor and I asked, ‘am I bad guy?’ It was weird because I never act!”
Nomura was happy to give Japanese authenticity to a story that he feels will be enjoyed by everyone. “This is a really straightforward story about a boy and his dog,” he said. “It’s adventurous and it will touch kids and adults. People will enjoy it in many ways.”