The city of Megasaki, with its monumental neon skyscrapers crowding the evening sky, looms ominously over a small village of tiled-roof homes and merchant houses. This dichotomy of technology over tradition reappears in many forms over the course of “Isle of Dogs,” the latest movie from Wes Anderson (“The Grand Budapest Hotel,” “Moonrise Kingdom”). Anderson’s movies often romanticize the past in simple ways, emphasizing the nostalgic value in a record player or flying a kite. 

Here, Anderson filters that nostalgia through Japanese cultural imports. Megasaki itself resembles the sprawling metropolises of “Kaijū” movies — monster movies like “Godzilla vs. Megalon” — or the futuristic cities of “Neo-Tokyo” and “New Port City,” respectively from the animated movies “Akira” and “Ghost in the Shell.” Anderson’s reverence for the samurai fables of Akira Kurosawa or the contemplative framing of Yasujirō Ozu emerge as the movie’s driving force. 

Even his choice in using stop-motion animation (which he’d done previously in 2009’s “The Fantastic Mr. Fox”) mimics the old-fashioned artistry of Rankin/Bass cinematography expert Tadahito Mochinaga. The vision of dystopian Japan constructed in “Isle of Dogs” denies the contemporary reality of the area, instead creating an assemblage of cultural allusions and references that would resonate not only with Japanese culture nerds in America but with a nostalgic generation of Japanese adults.

Discussion over whether to label Anderson’s latest movie as culturally appropriative has been coursing since the first trailer for “Isle of Dogs” appeared last September. Such conversations are necessary when reckoning with the shameful history of Hollywood’s orientalism. The jury is out on “Isle of Dogs,” as debates about the movie’s role in reinforcing or propagating Japanese stereotypes range from comprehensive to vitriolic. I can’t speak to whether or not the film is appropriative; I can only recommend that readers defer to the cornucopia of opinions of those who have the room to discuss their own representation on screen.

“Isle of Dogs” begins with a fable about a young samurai boy overthrowing his corrupt uncle who sparked war between dogs and cats thousands of years ago. Sure, it’s an absurd and heavy-handed setup, but Anderson has never been one for realism or subtlety. The fable parallels the near-future, where Megasaki’s mayor Kobayashi (Kunichi Nomura, also on the movie’s story team) orders the mass deportation of dogs as a response to an epidemic of “dog flu.” Scientists are on the verge of a cure, but Kobayashi’s anti-dog propaganda has swayed the public. 

Again, the metaphor isn’t particularly subtle, as most viewers can draw comparisons to the fear-mongering of many contemporary leaders, including Japan’s own Prime Minister, Shinzō Abe. The Orwellian Kobayashi, often framed with a massive poster of his face behind him, hides his dictatorial tendencies behind the illusion of choice; he “allows” dissenting opinion, while suppressing information that threatens his reign and threatening his opponents. 

Soon, all dogs in Megasaki, stray and purebred, healthy and diseased, are dropped from chutes onto Trash Island. Here, a democratic pack of dogs, all bearing monarchical names — Chief (Bryan Cranston), Rex (Edward Norton), King (Bob Balaban), Boss (Bill Murray) and Duke (Jeff Goldblum) — stumble upon a 12-year-old boy who crash lands on the island. They discover he’s actually Atari Kobayashi (Koyu Rankin), the mayor’s nephew, on a mission to rescue his dog, Spots (Liev Schrieber), the first dog to be deported. The pack takes up a quest to reunite the dog with his boy.

Unfortunately, the human storyline is less interesting. It plays as a pretty straightforward dystopian thriller, punctuated by the occasionally annoying Tracy Walker (Greta Gerwig). Tracy, as her name might imply, is an American exchange student and she joins up with her school’s activism group in opposition to Kobayashi’s policies. Anderson sets her character up so intriguingly — a hot-headed outsider, only pushed to action when her own dog, Nutmeg (Scarlett Johannson), gets deported — that it’s a shame she barely gets explored. Though she’s not exactly a “white savior,” as her participation with the activists is rarely effective, she toes the line a bit too close for comfort. 

With some spectacular vocal performances from the entire cast, Cranston and Schrieber as standouts, Anderson reaffirms his penchant for offbeat, stilted dialogue. Chief is the only stray dog in the pack and he’s the only opposing voice when the other dogs vote on what to do with Atari. As he’s forced to accompany Atari when the two get separated from the rest of the pack, he learns to cherish the bond between dogs and their people. At one point he reluctantly plays fetch to amuse Atari. “I’m not doing this because you told me to,” he says, “I’m doing this because I feel sorry for you.” 

Of course, Atari can’t hear him. A somewhat superfluous note at the beginning of the film explains that all the Japanese dialogue will be preserved, only translated through diegetic means (newscast interpreters, for example) while the dogs’ “language” will be translated to English. Even so, Anderson’s talent for visual communication effectively conveys the attitude of each character, dog and human alike.

Parents might be tempted to take their children to this cute animated film about dogs, though they should be wary. Although fights are represented a couple of times through cartoony clouds of dust with flailing limbs, occasional grim violence helps raise the stakes for each encounter. In one of the first scraps, a dog’s ear gets torn clean off. Atari suffers a brain injury from a piece of shrapnel; the dogs opt to leave it in until they can get him to a doctor. 

“Isle of Dogs” lives up to its epic proportions as Anderson turns mountains of trash into a veritable wasteland with a rich history and mythos among the dogs who inhabit it. When the movie follows Atari and the dogs on their journey across Trash Island, it’s breathtaking. With each detail-packed frame, each arrhythmic punchline, each visual gag, each stunning color choice, it’s a bold statement that Anderson remains on top of his game.