Disclaimer: if you're here for an exclusive clip of that amazing sushi scene, then I'm sorry you're in the wrong place. I tried, I really did, to get my hands on it, but prying something so special from the hands of a premier director is actually pretty hard. Who knew? If you're here to hear me wax fanboy on his latest film, and look at some stills from the movie, then keep reading.
Wes Anderson’s newest, and arguably most ambitious, feature unfolds in and around the fictional Japanese city of Megasaki and the neighboring Trash Island, a floating depository for all sorts of refuse. The island’s primary inhabitants—who live among heaps and mountains of trash expertly organized in typical Andersonian fashion—are a group of wayward dogs, left to their wits by a society that no longer sees them as pets. They wander their private wasteland, jockeying for maggot speckled leftovers, reminiscing on days when owners fed them treats from cans and slipped them dollops of green tea ice cream.
References to food are speckled throughout the movie. And because it’s Wes Anderson, they’re always rendered delicately, beautiful, intricately. There's the interior of a kitchen with cans of Puppy Snaps stacked ever so carefully along the wall or the ramen joint where a youth baseball team gathers to slurp post-practice noodles. Even the bags of trash chomped on, ever so voraciously, by the cast of dogs is still poetic in its composition.
But in one particularly memorable sequence, the camera hovers above the hands of a sushi chef as he chops, slices, skins, cracks, rolls, spreads, drips, and folds a buffet of seafood, stacks the finished dishes, and wraps them to go. A stop motion fever dream, the moment is both disorienting and intensely satisfying, set to whiplash sound effects and a rapidly accelerating taiko drum beat. It's a pivotal moment in the film, with dastardly consequences (which I'll avoid going into). Yet something about the shot feels distinct, apart from the rest of the movie, and for a reason.
The sequence was such an undertaking that the production hired an independent animation director, Brad Schiff, to handle the moment alone. He was joined by three animators—Andy Biddle, Tony Farquhar-Smith and Tobias Fouracre—who worked over the course of two months to bring the scene to life. The final cut can’t be longer than a minute.
The toy box symmetry of Anderson’s aesthetic and the hairpin precision of sushi making coalesce into a mesmerizing, perfectly choreographed routine. “It’s partly invented sushi, it has a sort of fantasy element to it,” Anderson notes in the movie’s production notes, “but at the same time, I felt if these puppets are not using the knives properly or approaching the fish with the meticulousness of a real sushi chef, it’s silly and it’s not interesting.”
As I exited the theater, it was the first thing I noted to my friend. “I mean, that sushi scene.” She assented. The next day at work, Josh, our test kitchen chef, approached me. “So I saw the new Wes Anderson movie last night and there’s this scene…” I interrupted him: “The sushi scene, I know.” In a movie littered with otherwise infinite memorable shots (many of them involving food!), it’s the sushi-making scene that really stands out.
As for actually seeing the scene, like in person, you'll have to head to theaters.
Have you seen Isle of Dogs? Do you know the moment we're talking about? Share in the comments below.