Center For Language Education-SUSTech | Staff English Movie Day: “Isle of Dogs”
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Staff English Movie Day: “Isle of Dogs”

Staff English Movie Day: “Isle of Dogs”

By: Matthew Jellick


Continuing with an English-language learning opportunity I began last year with my Staff Students, this past Sunday we went to see an American movie, Isle of Dogs.  About 25 students participated, including some who brought their friends from off-campus, as we met at a local theatre to watch the new stop-motion animation, directed by Wes Anderson.  Last year we saw the Academy Award Winning, La La Land, both great experiences to share culture and language outside of the classroom.

Trying to build a community of learners which meets more often than our prescribed weekly classes, my goal is to foster authentic learning environments that incorporate not only English but also western approaches to knowledge.  Vocabulary memorization is fruitless without context but encouraging exposure to language though a creative storylines gives new meaning to words and different approaches to thought.  In each of the respective films we have seen last semester and last weekend, deeper meanings can be found beyond the Jazz music or barking dogs; elements of Western filmmaking which incorporate the English language, but, in both cases, don’t rely on it.

Isle of Dogs is far from a conventional film, not only because it uses intricate puppets for its characters, but from a linguistic viewpoint, in the way it pulls the strings of language.  To say the film is entirely in English would shortchange not only the Japanese language but also the Japanese culture which sets the tone.  From the opening scene with Taiko Drumming to the deadly Wasabi which kills the opposition party candidate Professor Watanabe, the director sprinkles about subtle messages while keeping a defining plot line and character development.  Yet it was the English dialogue which drew me share this movie with my students but like the ending of La La Land where everyone doesn’t live happily ever after, it was the complex nature of the film’s message which I think was the ultimate takeaway.

The staff students themselves seemed to understand the complexities of the film, as we were able to discuss it afterwards, continuing our afternoon at a nearby café.  Questions about the motives of the villain, the scheming Mayor Kobayashi, and his plans to eradicate dogs completely from the dystopian near-future of the fictionalized Megasaki City, were profound in their understanding of the films directive yet the smiles on their faces also told me they had a good time.  This is the impact which learning can have and which I try to nurture through outings such as this.

It is my goal to continue this activity next semester, and hopefully an equally good film will pass though Chinese cinemas, allowing us the opportunity.  Yet what I have found with these past two Staff English Movie Days is that it is not necessarily the language which promotes interest, it is the experience of the collective community of learners which brings us together for an afternoon of education disguised as fun.