Inside the insane sets of Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs

A hand-crafted vision of the future

The hand-crafted sets of Wes Anderson’s dystopian film Isle of Dogs go on show in London tomorrow, giving visitors a chance to explore his vision of Japan in 20 years time.

Anderson’s fictional city Megasaki has arrived at The Store X on The Strand, along with its autocratic puppet mayor Kobayashi: a man with a vendetta against dogs. In the stop-motion animation, Kobayashi exiles all canines to Trash Island – on show in all its rubbish-laden glory – where they form clans and fight for food. Meanwhile the mayor’s 12-year-old nephew embarks on a mission to save his beloved dog Spot and turn around the fortunes of all his furry friends.

Some 17 original sets take over the ground floor of The Store X’s Brutalist building. These meticulously crafted visions of Japanese culture are a model architecture-lover’s dream – the towering metropolis has been created in extraordinary detail, down to pot plants and the requisite red lanterns. There’s even a wood-panelled bar, stocked with medically enhanced sake. Meanwhile, you can almost smell the festering rubbish on Trash Island.

Sets from Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs
Photography: Jack Hems, The Store X, 2018

‘Everything you see has been made – there was no option to pop to a prop store,’ says cinematographer Tristan Oliver. ‘Even the lanterns have been hand-carved and painted in resin.’

Design cues for some of Wes Anderson‘s sets came from beyond Japan. Adds Oliver: ‘I’m particularly fond of what we call the “animal testing facility”, which we based on North Brother Island, a tuberculosis hospital off the coast of New York. It was abandoned once a cure was found and taken over by nature. We also referenced the nature-ravaged St Peter’s Seminary in Scotland, particularly its semi-circular niches.’

Sets from Wes Anderson's Isle of Dogs
Part of the ‘animal testing facility’ set. Photography: Jack Hems, The Store X, 2018

Filming the Isle of Dogs was a huge operation: ‘We had between 40 and 50 film units running at one time,’ the cinematographer explains. ‘All the animators had to capture the language of Wes.’

One of the sets has been recreated in life size for the exhibition. At the ‘Noodle Bar’, visitors can nibble on traditional Japanese Ramen by acclaimed chef Akira Shimizu (of Soho’s Engawa restaurant) and sip on sake.

Photography: Jack Hems, The Store X, 2018
The life-size Noodle Bar. Photography: Jack Hems, The Store X, 2018

Wes Anderson’s Isle of Dogs exhibition and Noodle Bar runs until 8 April 2018 at The Store X, 180 The Strand. Opening hours are 11am to 7pm every day, with last entry at 6.15pm. It’s presented in collaboration with Fox Searchlight Pictures.

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