2003年09月21日 日曜日

Nothing Lost in Translation

by Jane Pinckard

Art, Expats in Japan

Lost in Translation
Sofia Coppola's dreamy, gorgeous new film is a lovely postcard from Tokyo. It moves with gentle wonder through a softly glowing city and its frenetic, incomprehensible inhabitants to detail a character sketch of a place, all faint outlines and shadows and suggestions of colors. Her camera adroitly captures the strange, almost eerie beauty of a Tokyo evening, the neon lights blurring through the window of a taxi as seen by a perpetually jetlagged traveler. It takes a stranger's eye to transform the familiar and mundane into a seductive mystery. The mystery is never explained, never penetrated; for while the city is revealed as a place of great character and interest, it is never the focus. This is not a film about cultural understanding, but about self-alienation.

The movie brings tentatively together two wanderers: Bob Harris, a fading American action hero, in Tokyo to pick up a couple million dollars for promoting whiskey; and Charlotte, a girl who followed her photographer husband to Tokyo because she had some free time. Both are facing personal crises born of a sort of malaise. Both are experiencing problems with their partners, Bob in the classic "mid-life crisis" way and Charlotte in the early twenties "what do I do with the rest of my life" way. Tokyo is chosen as the setting for their romantic friendship, but because they never fully engage the city, any foreign place might do: Cairo, perhaps, or Moscow. But the lushness and busyness of Tokyo perfectly suits: it whirls around the pair, sometimes dizzying and disorienting, while they struggle to wake themselves up.

Early in the movie there is a literal "lost in translation" sequence played for laughs but which, at the core, comprises the reason for the characters' depression. While Bob is filming the commercial for Suntory, the director gives him detailed and impassioned instructions in unsubtitled Japanese: "This is not just about whiskey! Okay?" Bob's translator (unaccountably, but the situation is exaggerated for effect) translates all that as "He wants you to turn to the camera. With intensity!" Bill Murray is at his best recklessly trying to interpret this "intensity" while saying, "Make it Suntory time!" The miscomprehension is all the more heartbreaking if you understand Japanese, because what the director tells him makes perfect sense. But the scene poignantly illustrates that Bob cannot communicate, and it is not merely the language barrier which prevents him. A couple of painful phone calls from home uncover more as the film goes on. After one passive-aggressive exchange with his estranged wife, he is able to say "I love you" only after she has hung up. Charlotte, too, is tongue-tied. She calls home from her hotel room, crying. "Who did I marry?" she asks in despair, but her listener doesn't hear, and she doesn't repeat it. "Everything's fine, Tokyo's great," she says, and hangs up.

To someone who knows and loves Tokyo, it seems incomprehensible at first that the two Americans spend much of their time trapped in the glittering, highly polished Park Hyatt, watching the city from above through the window. But Coppola shows that the two are lost not merely because of where they are, but who they are. Charlotte lounges prettily but sadly in her underwear in the hotel room, which she has tried to make homey by hanging plastic sakura blossoms from the light fixtures. Her room is pale and pink. She sits on the windowsill and gazes out over the city in daylight, listening to a self-help CD. It's a convincing portrait of depression. Bob's room, by contrast, is entirely masculine � dark and wood-colored. His solitude doesn't take the form of gazing out, but of mindless activity. He tries going to the gym, swimming at the hotel pool, watching television, taking a bath. He sometimes descends as far as the hotel bar, where he fends off curious questions of what he's doing here by muttering a lie which will soon come true: "I'm just seeing some friends." It's clear that he and Charlotte are destined to meet, not only because of the natural bond between nationals abroad, but because they are twin souls. They dance a lonely and intricate courtship around the same patterns, endlessly winding through their beautiful cage, looking for a way out.

Charlotte, played with understated, sleepy charm by Scarlett Johansson, is more adventurous, or perhaps simply more restless, than Bob. At times she is able to shake off her depressed lethargy and wander into the city. It's impossible, in these scenes, not to imagine that it's Coppola's own memories unfolding onscreen. Through Charlotte we experience the all the familiarity of culture shock in Tokyo: the gloriously messy and crowded subway, the alienation from not speaking the language, the mystery of sexually explicit manga consumed in public. Charlotte stares at the book, then stares at the entirely unembarrassed young man reading it, in a very light comic moment. You can picture Sofia Coppola herself wandering around a game center, peeking in at boys playing at being rock stars on fake guitars or drum pads, or gazing at the moving advertisements in Shinjuku. But we never penetrate the glittering facade of the city - nor are we meant to. The two characters are in focus, and everything around them is a blur.

There are a couple of cheap shots, however; some laziness on the director's part. There's the requisite scene in which a well-meaning prostitute tries to service Bob rather aggressively. Japanese women are so often portrayed as either docile and submissive or sex-crazed dominatrices in the West that I get tired of this trope. It does not advance the story and it feels like a last-minute, clumsy addition. The tritest of jokes also gets trotted out in this sequence: the prostitute tells Bob to "lip" her stockings, which causes great confusion until he figures out that she means "rip". This joke is brought up again and again, a jarring worn-out leitmotif throughout this otherwise delicately nuanced movie.

But culture shock itself is not the theme, merely a metaphor for the love story. The film uses the elements of cultural disconnect to train the lens of perception and to refract it. Windows appear often, a repeating pattern of the mediated gaze. In this case, the Americans are on the inside of the glass, looking out. The brightly mirrored elevator doors at the hotel cuts off the gaze entirely, at crucial moments when the characters most need to connect. The first time Bob sees Charlotte is in the elevator, two strangers among Japanese people. She smiles at him without knowing what she does, then exits. In the club Charlotte's friend invites them to, the disco balls refract the light and spash every party-goer with the same pattern of light and shadow - rendering them all, temporarily, similar to view at least.

It is not stretching too far, I think, to venture that someone whose alter ego is a Philosophy major has read Barthes's Empire of Signs, a work that validates what Coppola is doing with her film. While it is a mistake to go so far as to apply formal structuralist critique to this (or any) work of art, Coppola clearly follows Barthes's approach of observation and interpretation of the surfaces of things, without contextualizing. She, like Barthes, uses Tokyo as an example, not as a thing to look into for meaning in itself. This approach may be frustrating to viewers who are looking for depth of cultural understanding. Instead, Coppola shows us the characters by reflecting them off the surfaces of her Tokyo, which is shrouded in an inviting darkness. It is not until the very end that the city appears to us in daylight, but no less dizzying and disorienting for that. His final words to her are lost in her hair. There are some things we're not meant to know.

Technically, the film is nearly perfect. Coppola displays an effortless mastery of visual language, constructing transparent layers to suggest her themes. One marvelously delicate scene shows the two characters in conversation, but we only see their reflections in a window, through which we can see the expanse of night-time Tokyo blooming with glittering lights. The scene immediately precedes � and prepares � the moment that the characters finally open to each other: "I'm stuck," Charlotte admits, "Does it get any easier?"

The sound design in the film is, if possible, even more stunning. Coppola uses natural sounds to create a rich texture that describes the city as well, and as specifically, as the visuals do. When Bob carries a sleeping Charlotte through a dark hotel in the middle of the night, the gentle whirr of distant vacuum cleaners, the hum of fluorescent lights, and his footfalls on the carpet coalesce into a delicate ambient trance. A light-hearted chase scene through a pachinko parlor revels in playful virtuosity, the chimes of the gambling machines and the coins in the slots tinkling and rattling, panning quickly as the characters run. Rarely has a film so exuberantly celebrated the art and pleasure of flimmaking.
Coppola reveals her excellent musical taste in the soundtrack. Hardly a moment goes by that is unscored, but it never feels oppressive or manipulative. Rather, the music often builds organically. The filmmaker often speaks through the songs - to touching or humorous effect. The slyly hilarious scene in the sex club has the stripper gyrating to post-feminist rapper Peaches. At karaoke, the characters who have been unable to speak their problems before fall in love through singing great songs of another era. Bob gazes at Charlotte while she vamps her way through The Pretenders' "Brass in Pocket": as she sings, "I'm special � so special," the camera moves to Bob's fondly wistful face. Yes, she is special. Later, he takes the microphone and begins singing Roxy Music's "More Than This", a haunting melody which, because it's Bill Murray, one expects to be kitsched. But Murray brings a goofy, sincere-in-spite-of-himself charm to the song, telling Charlotte "You know there's nothing/More than this." Their two songs, in this potent and perfectly performed scene, summarize the essence of the tension in the movie: they are special, and they've found each other, but like a dream, there's nothing more. And there can not be.

This deceptively simple flim moves clearly and gracefully to the inevitable conclusion, leaving nothing of confusion in its path. The emotional logic is impeccable. There is more warmth than regret in the poignancy of the parting moment. Coppola's status as a deft writer/director with a finely tuned ear, commanding eye, and a dextrously light touch should now be assured.

Posted by Jane Pinckard at 2003年09月21日 19:38

1- zod

Excellent review. It's the first one that I've seen that points out the fact that this film isn't about Japan. Well, maybe up to a certain point.

2- Ryan O'Donnell

I've seen this film several times since it has released here in the states. it's a moving and personal experience. i think jane's got pretty much the right idea here. there are indeed a few quick, cheap jokes thrown in... my guess is to keep the general audience entertained... but overall, it's solid filmmaking. beatifully shot, scored, acted, and directed. I'm heading to Tokyo tomorrow for the first time in my life. and nothing has made me more excited about it than this film. check it out.

oh, and jane, great work, as usual.

Thanks for this review Jane. You touched on a lot of my feelings - wanting to celebrate a fine film, and still questioning the role of "Japan" in Lost in Translation. Coppola did a good job of honoring wonderful things about Japan, from the newbie-visitors point of view. There's a beauty to the lights, and the first time you're handed a blizzard of business cards, the sing-song voice announcing your arrival. But in this context, it's mostly a blur surrounding the struggling characters.

This film was like a memory for me - seeking to find myself in artsy parties, late night drunk singing, new friends, long days in hotels, inexplicable surreal content on TV. There's <a href="http://www.lost-in-translation.com/qaPopFrame.html">an good interview with Sofia Coppola hidden in the LIT site</a> -<blockquote><b>Q:</b> What was the genesis of the idea for Lost in Translation? Did it come from a specific trip?</blockquote><blockquote><b>SC:</b> It was inspired by spending time in Japan in my early and mid-20s. I went there six or seven times over a couple of years. Just from spending time there, being in the Park Hyatt Tokyo, I wanted to do something set in Tokyo, and I liked the idea of how, in hotels, you keep running into the same people. There's this sort of camaraderie even though you don't know them or even talk to them. And, being foreigners in Japan - things are distorted, exaggerated. You're jet-lagged and contemplating your life in the middle of the night.</blockquote>This is absolutely true - foreigners in Japan can share unusual strong bonds. An island within an island. Cultural mixing and blurring is a goal of mine, so I've tried to move away from these moments of strong visitor/local dichotomy. But it's easy and even comforting at times to sit back with someone who shares your first language and watch the tilted modernity of Tokyo go by.

Jane touches on the appropriateness of filming this story in Japan, instead of, say, Europe. Coppola describes it here: "One of things I love about Tokyo is that it's so different than being in Europe - much more foreign and unfamiliar with regard to the culture, the language. Everything's different, even getting the groceries." The context is western (hotels, stores, swimming pools, TV talk shows). But the tone and pace of the place is remarkably different.

Coppola speaks to her intentions: "to convey what I love about Tokyo and visiting the city. It's about moments in life that are great but don't last. They don't go on, but you always have the memory and they have an effect on you." There's a pleasant ephemerality to this film. There's not much overworked sentimentality. It has a reality, perhaps in part because it's located primarily in the hyper-reality of urban Tokyo and the Park Hyatt. Profiling the people who are likely to show up and linger there for a time. An excellent use of location! Location as a device for story.

4- zod

I haven't seen Auberge Espagnole, but I wonder if it touches on any of the same issues of that transient ex-pat life that Lost in Translation sort of conjured up.

I wonder if the experience being a Western visitor to Japan is less or more jarring because of the modernity? Does it cause some kind of cognitive dissonance? Living in China for a while, I feel a lot of what has been said could apply as well to my experience there, but you'd never mistake areas of it for the West.

i think i liked the movie so much because i saw a lot of my own tokyo-experiences in the movie. and i'm not afraid to say i love myself so much that anything in life that i can personalize, i like even more. people have been lost in life and lost in love but very few people i know have been lost in tokyo! dreamy sequences, surreal predicaments, all night clubbing...it could happen anywhere, but it's super special when it happens in a country where you can't read signs or speak the language.

with lost in translation, i felt sofia told the world a big secret. but you wouldn't know you missed the secret unless you'd experienced tokyo for yourself. for all the known chaos (japanese electronics, giant billboards and whacky cute street fashion), tokyo is still very much a place that breeds the most amazing hosts and creative talent. fun can be had all day and night with your incredible hosts, yet loneliness sets in quickly once you find yourself on your own. what do i do with myself? where shall i wander? locals don't know where the hell they're going so am i going to end up in some back alley...and find a delightful out-of-the-way unagi and rice shop?

for people involved in japanese youth culture, you are allowed in on a few more secrets. sofia, a tastemaker in her own right with her street fashion label, milk fed, a clothing line popular in japan pays homage to tokyo trendsetter, hiroshi fujiwara, by allowing him a cameo in her movie (scarlett/charlotte sits down next to him in the club before she goes running out with bill/bob to the streets of tokyo). there are so many other cameos by japanese pop culture icons like charlie brown -- he goes by this name in real life (fumihiro hayashi), photographer hiromix and nao of b's international (milk fed's japanese distributor). there are subtle crowd shots with a kid rockin' bape. there are odes to clubs (orange) that existed in the mid 90s that no longer exist today and had to be rebuilt just for the movie.

it is sofia's eye for authenticity that keeps the movie sincere and grounded. i sometimes selfishly wish she hadn't shared her vision.

6- mike

Does anyone know what Bill Murray whispered into Charlotte's ear?

7- Howard Rheingold

Judy and I saw this movie last night and I've been looking for reviews of it. This is a stunning review, Jane. Perfect and thought-provoking.

8- mike g.

Here's a great NYT article about Sofia Coppola's personality and filmmaking:
<a href="http://www.theblogproject.com/index.php?p=122&more=1">http://www.theblogproject.com/index.php?p=122&more=1</a>

The film brought back great memories of traveling alone in Hokkaido during college. The whirlwind relationships that form so quickly and the inevitable partings that follow. Being a foreigner has a lot to do with the intense bonding, as does the introspection that comes with traveling alone, I'm sure. It's strange how a lot of these friendships don't survive back home, like they're tied to that brief moment. Ah, like Sakura...another layer of symbolism!

Like souris, I also wanted to somehow "hide" that initial Tokyo feeling from the rest of the world to keep it special. It's silly, I'm sure thousands of people experience that newness each day.

9- coulditbemeitis

a visionary does have the ability to create authentic visions, and then give them to people who havne't envisioned it yet. Thats me, an untravelled uncultured- hungry person. Thanks be to Jane and Sophia, true helpers.

10- mike

I just wanted to add that the review author's "status as a deft writer with a finely tuned ear, commanding eye, and a dextrously light touch should now be assured".

I'm envious that you got to see it.
It will probably be months before it shows in Tokyo.

I'm also envious of all the people who will see it, never having experienced Tokyo. After I lived here for about a year, a friend back home commented that I never wrote amusing posts about it anymore. "Everything just seems so normal now..." was my reply.

Now I've been here four years and very little about Japan seems strange. I wonder if the movie will lose anything for me because of that. I hope not.

I miss the newness, oddness, and sheer wonder I would feel wandering through surreal neon valleys of pachinko parlors and game centers to the back streets of ramen shops, bob-tailed cats, grandmothers sweeping with ancient-looking brooms, the lights, noise, finding myself lost, illiterate and unable to communicate, the looming fear of committing some social gaffe involving shoes, chopsticks or language.

Thanks for a great review, Jane.

Oh - If you see the movie again, watch the background for a guy with a ponytail - hopefully I'm there and not somewhere on the cutting room floor...

12- Mimi Ito

I tried not to read any reviews before seeing this movie, but despite that, I found I went in with expectations that were not met by the movie. I think I went in expecting some kind of depiction of what the experience of Tokyo is like for a foreigner, an experience that kindles some kind of passion for--if not understanding of difference-- appreciation of it. Instead, as Jane points out, the movie is not about Tokyo or the experience of culture shock at all, but uses the setting as a background for pointing out how special a certain class of people are and affirming their basic self-identities.

I agree with Jane on the artistic merits of the movie. But it was so strikingly not my own view of the city and Japanese culture that it left me dissatisfied and somewhat depressed. This is really not a movie pitched to a person like me who closely identifies with Tokyo. So read on with that in mind.

Intellectually, I can understand that there is a place for a movie that uses a foreign place an irreducibly othered stage for performing famliar dramas of mid-life crisis and youth angst. But the movie reified the distinction between the white protagonists and the comical and weird Japanese to such an extent that I found myself with an emotional response that overshadowed my artistic and intellectual appreciation of the movie. I was annoyed that these white faces were getting so much adoring play time in a setting where yellow faces were an indistinct and depersonalized background. In the end, I was left with the feeling that my own identity as a mixed culture individual was untenable. People can only identify with people of their same race and cultural background. Left in a place where most people do not share that identity, then one gravitates desperately to someone who looks and acts like a familiar object of desire. The Japanese prostitute that appears in the film is rendered ridiculous. How could a white man possibly be attracted to someone like that, even though he shares a bed with two of the three white women he meets in the Park Hyatt. The movie does not challenge the dominant logics of race, gender, and difference. The older white male controls the action. The young blonde is the object of desire. And Asians are barely named, a part of the setting rather than characters to be developed.

I found myself wondering what the film would have been like given a Japanese-American protagonist? Or what if they were not pampered ruling class hipster Americans staying at the most expensive hotel in Tokyo, but visitors of the more pedestrian tourist type? I also find myself thinking of visitors like Justin who resolutely refuse to take difference for granted and wander reckelessly through the most unpaved backstreets of Tokyo, confronting surprised Japanese in charmingly broken Japanese. What would a view of <i>this</i> kind of "othered" Tokyo subjectivity look like?

I know this is a whiney and political critique, but it stems from my ambivalence at the seeing "my" city reduced to an aesthetic pastiche devoid of personal meaning and depth.

I guess Lost in Translation is in the long tradition of high art about the artistocracy (in this case, an aristocracy of media). It's got that upper-class focus and refinement, command of craft, and perhaps incestual focus. The whole piece is enclosed and feeding upon a very small set of characters, who are all part of the same small tribe. There can be something beautiful about that, but also slightly pathological, unreal and unhealthy.

Like any country, Japan is a deep place. Maybe some of the magic this movie has comes from their willingness to pick and use so little and waste so much. It's a flashy magic; a small movie with a big setting. Unafraid to be disengaged, and unchallenging. Only people with means or serious hangups can be that detached.

Mimi mentioned that there were no named, conversational Japanese characters. That was striking. The Japanese people portrayed within Lost in Translation were backdrop, caricatures - devices to express the turmoil of listless expatriates.

The movie is about the inner life of two people removed from themselves and their surroundings. It was sad to watch them at times, and to know that only a ten minute walk away, there were people eager to talk with them in a bathtub on the top of a skyscraper, or down in the narrow alleys below. Perhaps there's a poignancy to the experiences they missed.

But yes, the pile of "black brack" jokes was ultimately sad and distancing. The camera didn't bother to go behind the sushi counter, to show the facial expression of the Japanese chef when Bil Murray turned away. Or perhaps when he tried to earnestly communicate with his foreign customers. Or his daughter who was mulling her own fantasy and inaction in the apartment above the restaurant.

I guess this film did reinforce the distance between Japanese and non-Japanese, and ignore the vast middle space in between those two poles. In that sense, the film is not terrifically Chanpon - it is largely un-mixed. There is exciting media that reflects cultural blending; for example, friendly mingling between people who share the same questions about life between cultures and race.

Lost In Translation is something else - a piece about people who were distanced from themselves and their jobs, and the people around them. Sadly, many of the characters in Tokyo were distanced through stereotype and miscommunication.

14- MImi Ito

After the movie, I was having a discussion with my husband about the point that Justin raises, that this was not a chanpon movie but one that, if anything, celebrates an unmixed and mono-cultural identity, the view that cultures are inherently self-contained wholes, inpenetrable to outsiders.

The "r" and "l" confusion seemed to me to be a metaphor for this view of culture. Even though any Japanese could tell you the reason for this confusion which seems to vex the two characters in the movie, they never actually seem to find out. Instead, Harris concludes, (yes I laughed too) that it is "just for yuks." The reading presented to the audience of this particular cultural artifact is one enclosed and decoded within the referents of the English-speaking world. The idiosyncracies of the Japanese language, which blends what English speakers would consider two distinct sounds, is never explained. That this cultural particularity is rendered as a performance "just for yuks" for English-speaking audiences draws the boundary between us and them, the incommensurability of language, humor, and understanding.

So we were wondering if there were any interesting films or works out there that people knew of which celebrated mixed cultural identity. One that immediately comes to mind is the very long-standing Madame Butterfly story of the erotic communion between white male and Asian female. But surely there must be others that don't rely on these older forms of gender and orientalist imagery?

I watched <a href="http://www.midnighteye.com/interviews/takashi_miike.shtml">Takashi Miike</a>'s "<a href="http://www.midnighteye.com/reviews/hazdcity.shtml">City of Lost Souls</a>" (Hazard City) a while back, and I was struck by Miike's vision of Japan. In the film there was little pure Japanese, especially contrasted with pure foreignness. The protagonist was mixed-Brazilian and something, and most of the people he interacted with were mixed background as well. The film was located in Japan, but it was a little bit of Jamaica, a little bit of Jakarta. Hazard City was a violent and depressing flik; not exactly an uplifting mixing culture vision. But it was inspiring to see a film-maker using Japan in a truly global context. Plus the Brazilian-Japanese hero was a real good ass-kicker, someone you could root for.

16- anne

like mimi, i too was disenchanted by this movie. the cinematography was amazing, the story in itself was not bad. perhaps it was because it took place in tokyo that i was not able to enjoy it.

my discontentment with the movie boils down to several key features of the movie. these two unlikely lovers find themselves only by virtue of the fact that they are alienated by the culture around them. they define themselves only in the negative space created by defining "the other". it is a self-fulfilling prophecy- by doing so, they further alienate themselves.

i also found the sequence in the sushi restaurant disturbing, and a perfect example of this process of alienation. harris implies in his joke that japanese people will eat anything, including a damaged toe. the sushi man, not understanding his words, smiles, an element of the universal human language. harris insults this hopeful, friendly encounter by mocking the guy: oh, you don't understand that you are the butt of my joke, 'cause here you are, smiling stupidly away, while i insult you and your culture.

but i recognize that very fact is in large part the point of the movie, that is, that we create our own alienation. harris is pathetically unable to communicate not only with japanese people, but even with those that he is closest to, his wife and children. he finds solace in the friendship (love? it's so situational, i don't know if one can consider it love) and comfort in interacting with the one other soul in the entire place who is equally self alienated.

17- anne

one more thought occured to me. though i agree that the city itself was merely the medium through which these characters move and not itself a central theme, i disagree with the fact that the film would have been just as effective in any other country/ major city. coppola has depicted tokyo as a materialistic, glitsy, and concerned with facade and image. these elements are central to the alienation of the two individuals, who are searching for genuineness in human interaction.

Quite funny, but it seems, that I'm one of the rare person who didn't like the movie at all. Yes the camera has a good vision of Tokyo, yes to many things.

But the fact is that this movie is only really understandable by people who have been in Tokyo. Many of the humour, cultural aspect are "Lost in the ignorance".

The movie is trying to be trendy, the movie is trying to be intellectual with a boring love story. no I don't buy it. The chapters on the bed on the married life is quite pathetic too.

I enjoyed the movie for many aspects but not for its tenderness, nor intimacy, etc. It's better to see a Wong-Kar Wai movie for this issue or Seom de Ki-duk Kim. Far better than this supposed "trendy-packaged" movie.

It's a marketing product and it will have success.

You're not so rare Karl - I didn't like the movie at all either. Like you, I found it unconvincing as a human story and not especially intersting as a picture of Tokyo either (although I suppose it was fairly accurate.)

What Jane describes in her review is a very pretty picture, and I wish that had been what the movie was like. But as I watched it the only words that went through my head were sophomoric and purile.

I'm pretty certain that if the movie had been made by someone other than a Copolla, no one in the world outside of those involved in the production would have ever watched or cared about it.

Oh well, to each his or her own... But I do think Jane is going down some pretty shakey paths with her talk about Barthes and structuralism. Do you really think, Jane, that a critic can "validate' (rather than describe) an artistic work? (Not that this film is, of course, such a work -- it's a "fair" student film by a person whose father has influence. Kind of Tori Spelling-like...)

20- may

This was a beautifully written review but like Mimi, I found a good deal of the film frustrating to watch for the very reasons she mentioned...I also visited Japan after graduating from school and for the life of me, I can't imagine why Charlotte would spend her time sitting in her underwear in a hotel room, staring out the window. But then, I was traveling by myself, on my own dime and I wanted to be there. It's interesting that Justin mentions Lost in Tradition as belonging to a long tradition of high art about the artistocracy. I thought very much the same thing as I was watching it...the pace and sense of upper class malaise and indifference reminded me very much of a Visconti film. Lovely to watch for a while but then you begin to shift in your seat.

21- Mike

Wonderful review. It added to my enjoyment of the film. One day I hope to become as observant.

22- Dyske

Although I also liked the film, I have issues with your drawing parallel with Roland Barthes. Personally I see no such similarity. The only thing similar may be the fact that the film's characters do not see anything beyond the surface. If that is enough to conclude that "it clearly follows Barthes's approach of observation and interpretation of the surfaces of things, without contextualizing" then most mindless tourists can also be said to follow Barthes' approach.

Barthes had a very specific reason why he was paying attention to what you call "surface", which was to deconstruct it, or more specifically to reveal the decentered nature of Japanese culture (or his imaginary Japanese culture.). "Lost in Translation" does nothing of the kind.

The characters in the film only sees the surface of Japanese culture because both are feeling lost in life. The director is drawing a parallel between how lost they feel inside about their own lives in general and how they are lost in a foreign culture. That is, the outside accurately reflects how they feel inside. If they were capable of feeling passionate about Japanese culture, they would not feel so lost in life. Their apathy towards life in general is reflected in their attitudes towards a foreign culture.

Neither the director nor the characters in the film do any type of structuralist or post-structuralist analysis of Japanese culture.

23- ironmite

Does any one know what the Japanese Director said, in Japanese, to Bill Murray during the filming of the ad?

24- Sherrill Durbin

I am so much in love with this movie, I surprise myself.

Two of my favorite scenes: Bob and Charlotte are at a friend's party, drinking Saki and doing Karaoke; next scene at same party, we see her singing Karaoke in a cute pageboy pink/blonde wig. She's clearly enjoying herself, but not overstated; Bob looks at her both amused/longingly. This scene is one I wish I could've joined in on.
The other favorite scene: When Bob carries Charlotte in his arms to her room (she's either passed out from all the Saki or she's just plain tired); he tucks her in, gently touches her, she opens her eyes for a brief moment and smiles, then she goes back into dreamland, contented. Bob leaves the room, acting like a perfect gentleman/friend/caring person.

Does anyone know where one could buy a wig just like the one Charlotte wore?

25- Brad

I think the soundtrack added a lot to the movie too, because all of the dreamy/sleepy songs really fit in with the confusing/dreamy emotions of the characters.

I thoroughly enjoyed this film. It spoke to me on many ways and different levels. I first traveled to Japan at 14, to spend a summer in Amagasaki. I lived with a Japanese family and my brother while there. Immersed in the culture, I felt at once the familiarities that result from a prolonged stay in a foreign nation.

My brother has resided in the Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto area for over fourteen years. During that time I’ve visited him twice. His love of Japan has been passed on to me, through experience and appreciation. I thought that Coppola presented a flawless glimpse of the country. Of course, the concept of ‘Japan’ was not the focus of the film, but rather a subtle background for the story of Charlotte and Bob.

I’ve found that when in Japan, because the European Westerner is so distinctively different in appearance, that people reach out to one another simply because of language or commonalities. This is not to say that they do not associate with the natives, but in such a homogenous nation, it is only natural for people to want to form bonds with their own, as well. In the past I’ve established brief, memorable friendships that, if in my native country, I would not pursue.

The loneliness and alienation that results from being overseas was perfectly portrayed by Charlotte. I’ve been there, navigating my way through the complex subway in Japan, walking through the crowded streets, visiting the landmarks. There is a certain surreal quality about staying somewhere without an understanding of the native language.

To summarize, in the span of two hours, Coppola took me to Japan and back. She stressed the need for shared experiences. And brought to the surface memories that have been hibernating beneath the surface of my consciousness.

Oh, and if anyone does know where to find a perfect pink wig like Charlotte's, as Sherril asks, please - let me know too!

27- John

This film is so shallow I could not believe it. It lacks depths throughout. All characters except the leads are terrible. Yes, Japan is not like the US suburb, so what? The microphone popping out from above in the last two thirds of the movie is nothing but a nuisance. I mean it is just a regular hollywood movie with nothing particular about it. It will be forgotten in a year.

28- mike

great review. i loved the movie. as the review states, the film is about alienation. the fact that the two characters are in a foreign land is a metaphor. i feel like i'm in a foreign land in my own hometown, often...

29- steve

Lost in Translation is a very good depiction of real life in Japan,I live in Japan and everything in this movie is correct from a western view.
Example,The Karaoke scene, very true in every instance (I have been to many Karaoke with my Japanese friends and everyone gets drunk and by the last song someone sings just like Bill Murray did).
another Example is the Pachinko ,very true ,loud busy and messy.
The movie is full of little things that only western people can percieve as culture shock.
Now is culture shock racist,maybe, but it happens to everyone around the world ,every culture has its own distinc way of living. This movie only shows the American view, imagine how a Japanese person who cannot speak English in New York tries to understand how an American speaks Japanese language.

30- Naz

<i>This film is so shallow I could not believe it. It lacks depths throughout. All characters except the leads are terrible. Yes, Japan is not like the US suburb, so what? ... It will be forgotten in a year. </i>

The beauty of this film is that it leaves so much for the viewer to figure out. The movie as smart as the movies can get. The dialogue isn't some conglomeration of fake verbosity. The characters speak their feelings like real humans. They behave like humans too, meaning that you have to look at their body language, intonations and facial expressions to learn what the characters are trying to express to one another. The movie assumes the viewers are smart enough to figure this by themselves.

Sofia Coppola will probably never make a movie more personal than this. Her cynical, introverted, introspective and smart personality manifests itself in the two main protagonists. One has to admire(and perhaps envy) her honesty, audacity and artistic vision.

31- Karl

Naz, I had exactly the opposite impression. Sofia Coppola is taking the viewers for a dumb person. The movie is clear, limpid, without subtleties. An intimate movie, artistic movie, and not taking the viewers for a dumb would be more on the line of
"Vive L'amour" of Tsai Ming-liang.

32- michael mahan

My take is that this is a film about both overt and subtle emotions and interactions between two similar characters with similar attitudes in similar situations, separated by one or two cycles of life experiences. The film is biased towards comprehension by the generally-astute viewer rather than the art film student/critic type.

The ambiance of loneliness and pathos ring true for me. The soundtrack, with one exception, cements that mood. The cinematography felt stylized and consistent with the mood too. I find complaints related to the sushi bar scene and the Japanese culture as abit too PC, provincial, and just missing the point of the movie. This isn't about strangers in a strange land - it is about losing one's identity and process of resurrecting it or fathoming a new one.

For me, this is a movie where the characters do just what is humorously mentioned towards the beginning of the story. It is a breakout. From the bar, the hotel, the city, the country. It is a breakout of their lifes. It desrcibes the pathetic situation two people are in and their simultaneous decisions to make the break and start anew. It is of less importance that they do this together than that they have the courage to change their comfortable existance and make the run toward freedom.

That said, what I especially enjoy is though the characters are so similar, the generational distance, in terms of experience, creates an emotionally asymettric relationship between Bob and Charlotte. This creates the primary tension as she becomes more deeply stuck on Bob, before he is with her. Given Bob's marriage history (second), this seems like familiar territory for him. Before that occurs though he tries to drive her away and to subvert his feeling for her by being very bad ... sleeping with the mocked hotel singer and then being unsympathetic or unrepentent in the next scene with Charlotte. The balance of power tilts toward Bob, and Charlotte is at his mercy. At the end, Bob's compassion for Charlotte gives himself the courage to internally confront his lousy situation and act on making changes to be true to his newly realized needs. He overrides his limp character and allows him to experience a deep feelings again. The end scene when she breaks down sobbing in Bob's arms (minimally in the style of a hardened East coast intellectual) reflects the depth of her emotional investment in both Bob and affirmation of her new conviction or path.

The karaoke scene was quite touching and was the key moment in the film. Charlotte is desperately to be special for someone. Bob needs to live in the present and experience happiness and deep love (more than this ... there is nothing). The look Charlotte gives Bob when he badly sings this classic Roxy Music song is the priceless instant of the movie. That is the look of desire and love - and we only have that moment ourselves rarely in real life - if at all. It was great to see it captured convincingly on the screen.

33- Graham

I enjoyed the movie very much, but I will agree with some of the negative comments. The sushi bar scene *was* gratuitous. Just like meeting a rude person in Japan, though, I think that it is jarring because it doesn't fit with its surroundings.

People who disliked the movie generally seem to do so because they have an idea of how the plot, or the characters, or the setting should be.

I don't think that Sophia intended Bob and Charlotte to be archetypes. This is the story of two people. They may be typical in some ways, they may not. Their characters may resonate with you or me, or they may not. Problems with the letter "R"? Some of us have experienced them, others have not. Bob was culturally insensitive at times, but who would like to say that people like him don't exist? I've met many of them.

In some scenes I could identify with the characters, but in others (i.e. staying in what may be the most expensive hotel in Japan, if not the world, no financial worries, translators and minders hovering around) their experiences were utterly unlike mine.

34- Andy

I enjoyed the movie for many aspects but not for its tenderness, nor intimacy, etc. It's better to see a Wong-Kar Wai movie for this issue or Seom de Ki-duk Kim. Far better than this supposed "trendy-packaged" movie.

I'm pretty certain that if the movie had been made by someone other than a Copolla, no one in the world outside of those involved in the production would have ever watched or cared about it.

36- Dyske


This is an interesting article about how the movie didn't do so well in Japan.

37- ghost rider

What song is being sang and who is singing in the lounge after the fire alarm?!? "I'm so into you. Whoo-hoo. When you walked into the room there was voodoo in the vibes. I was captured by your style but I could not catch your eyes..." "I am so into you, baby" I can't seem to find this information. I would appreciate the informatiom if you have it.

38- tim

having been planning a trip to tokyo before LIT came out - i certainly was intriqued when the movie came out in the fall of 03...
iv'e now seen it 4 or 5 times, so obviously i liked it very much. were there problems with the film? - yep... but the overall arch of the film really worked for me... the three main characters charlotte, bob and tokyo create what the movie was about for me; atmosphere... well, having seen it before i went to tokyo in april 04 and watcing it again after i returned - the film seemed to have gained even more depth for me...
i took about 3 1/2 hours of video on my trip and i have watched it maybe 8 to 10 times - and i always find some small thing i missed on previous viewings... i certainly had a different experience than bob or charlotte, but i also experienced live and in person the atmosphere that seeped through the film... espesially in the shinjuku area... what a deliriously wonderful and silly place it is! anyhoo, sophie coppola's film inspired me but i kind of knew and found out that dreamy tokyo is experienced on an invidual basis... well, excuse my babbling; i'm already planning to go back in april of 05 - excited already!

39- Dave Jorgensen

Lost in Translation is my favorite movie of all time. Everything in it truly connected for me. Coppela successfully reproduced many of the most memorable feelings and experiences I have from visiting Japan and rediscovering myself there. Something I never thought could be documented or explained to others, yet there it is on screen, on DVD, for anyone to enjoy. Everything about the entire movie just hit very close to home for me.

Although the movie portrays the protagonists as extremely pampered and well-to-do (living in their Hyatt ivory tower), this actually lends to the believability of their work (in real life I'd guess Coppela and these actors -are- extremely pampered and well-to-do) and it lends to the sense of distance and alienation of the characters, a central theme in the movie. Adding in a believable love story, some phenomenal cinematography, sound, music, cultural insight, etc. and summing it all up in 90 minutes was a very impressive feat if you ask me.

One thing worth mentioning before I continue, is that despite its accuracy and realism depicting Japan, the movie isn't really about Japan, or even Japanese people, as much as it's about the kind of introspection, personal confusion, and perhaps bonding, that can take place when all other elements of familiarity are removed. I think it's to all parties credit that in fact this personal side of the story is told with such subtlety and so believably that it goes without much criticism. Despite this, having travelled to nearly a dozen different countries, I have to say Tokyo is one of the cities that feels most foreign for me (even though I lived in Japan a few years), so frankly I can't imagine a better location for filming this kind of story. Again though, it's worth pointing out that this isn't so much about Tokyo as much as it's about two people helping each other feel not quite as lost as they'd otherwise have been (not just culturally, but emotionally as well).

The movie is a brilliant combination of personal and shared experience. The polite Japanese formalism and expressions which leave you feeling you've met everyone but don't really know anyone. Its a phenomenal introspection and brilliant depiction of being emotionally lost in a new marriage, or in mid-life crisis, accentuated by being lost in a strange culture.

The scenes at the Karaoke parlor, heading home that night, and a later discussion on the bed are all very endearing and extremely well done. Depiction of the younger couple's differences, as well as Bob's handling the grind of his home life, I think were very accurate, introspective and tie well into the overall sense of isolation and confusion felt by the characters.

The movie's cinematography is phenomenal. It does a great job showing Tokyo's modernity, it's crowded grey expanse and cool urban feel, its taken for granted technology and glowing neon glitz. The huge advertisements, videos and signs which blare their messages to the illiterate visitor. The extensive hotel footage and sense of living from a suitcase on top of a bed represents real life for most visitors to Japan. Wandering here and there and making no sense of it, is also the common experience for visitors, and it's conveyed extremely well. Being led by friends to their favorite clubs and hangouts in Japan is a rare treat for Japanese visitors, and for us to watch. It's simply wonderful to follow the characters as they swim through their vast experience.

There's also very insightful use of sound. The chimes, automated voices, whirs and whisps of cars, trains, automatic doors, elevators, ventilation systems... the troubled English, continual street noise, poor karaoke and constant Japanese spoken in the background, as well as the foreign stations on Japanese TV... These truly capture the sound of the foreign experience in Japan, and compliment the internal confusion the characters feel.

The dreamy, synthesized music also matches well with the confused, frustrated and sometimes dazzled feelings a person has facing modern Japan alone. The combination of the music with the scenery rolling by (in the train, etc) help convey what it feels like to be pulled around through the country without much control over the trip. The scenes which depict the traditional beauty (in temples, traditions, ceremonies, even flower arrangement) without true comprehension, are amazingly accurate depictions of what an outsider feels in Japan. Some have criticized saying the coverage is shallow, but from what I've seen the movie makes many more and much deeper observations than most foreigners visiting Japan will ever experience. I'm truly touched by the insight required to put this on film.

Coppela shares a vision of Japan which might seem irrelevant or simplistic for long-term residents of Japan. And it's probably under-appreciated or incomprehensible to those who have never been there before (or have been there for only a short time, with large groups on a clear itinerary). In addition to the crowded cities, glowing lights and high technology, she presents the worship of half-baked or fading celebrities. The poorly defined and drifting counter-culture pushed off to the side and into the night. The harmless expressions of dominance in a country with hardly any violent crime.

Some have complained this is a 'stereotypical' depiction of Japan, and of Japanese people. However that's extremely unfair to everyone involved, and frankly to anyone who has not built their entire life around Japan. The Japanese people are very homogeneous and only involve outsiders at a surface level. Having visited Japan for a few years, only seeing very few exceptions to the 'stereotype', and knowing many foreigners who have stayed much longer in Japan (only a few of whom ever break the surface barriers during their stay), by any measure, this 'stereotype' seems honestly the most accurate and truthful way to portray an American's experience in the country. Of course not every Japanese person fits the stereotype. They're not all friendly, polite and hoping to serve rich foreigners. Not all of them are clean-cut students, workers or businessmen. To Coppela's credit, she introduces a more than generous number of these stereotype breakers as well.

A few have criticized Coppela's vision of the characters, and ask why they travelled so unprepared, wandering and unmotivated for a deeper engagement in Japan. As someone who has travelled and knows many travellers, I think this is another unfair criticism. Perhaps it's popular these days to criticize such fish out of water as "Ugly Americans". In reality this confusion and culture shock is extremely common in solitary travelers to Japan, and Coppela makes great use of it to highlight the unpreparedness, wandering and lack of motivation the characters are dealing with in their personal lives as well.

Again, despite the limited audience (I'd guess that very few people have enough personal experience and introspection to appreciate the messages in this movie) I really think this is one of the most thoughtful, insightful, beautiful and touching movies I have ever seen. This is probably a "Love it or Hate it" kind of movie, and I really, really Love it.

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月, 9 22, 2003, @ 16:53
Found and Translated
› from Umami Tsunami

I saw "Lost in Translation" a couple days ago. It was a memorable experience, just perfect to watch before I go off to Japan myself. I wrote about it on Chanpon.org, which isn't live yet, but I've been given permission... More »

火, 9 23, 2003, @ 3:32
Seeking Translation
› from Justin's Links

I snuck out with Alan to see "Lost in Translation" - an excellent tale of traveller bonding and romance between More »

火, 9 23, 2003, @ 6:33
Jane reviews "Lost In Translation"
› from Gen Kanai weblog

Jane Pinckard reviews "Lost In Translation" on the Chanpon.org site which seems to have moved servers. Great review and I... More »

水, 9 24, 2003, @ 19:10
Found translation
› from RowBoat

The New York Times has posted a translation of one of the key scenes in Sofia Coppola's brilliant film "Lost in Translation" which is entirely in japanese, without subtitles. The scene is brilliant, and seeing this translation in hindsight makes... More »

土, 10 4, 2003, @ 16:04
Lost in Translation
› from Joi Ito's Web

I just saw Lost in Translation. It was strange watching it in Boston just hours after leaving Tokyo. It was like looking at my moblog... I knew the sushi chef from Ichikan in Daikanyama and the guy who played the producer of the photo shoot, Maki-san. ... More »

日, 10 5, 2003, @ 1:18
Lost in Translation
› from Life on Mars

Gary and I saw <a href="http://www.lost-in-translation.com/" title="Lost in Translation">Lost in Translation</a> last night. The filming (especially the cut-scenes) was astounding. More »

火, 10 7, 2003, @ 3:29
Lost In Translation
› from Words Into Bytes

Muddling through this waking life on auto-pilot. Dreams and nothing more. More »

日, 1 4, 2004, @ 18:00

It's no surprise that 'Lost In Translation' would have a cool soundtrack to accompany it. Sofia Coppola's last picture, 'The Virgin Suicides', was scored by Air and her latest has Kevin Shields in charge. Well, not so much 'in charge'... More »

月, 2 2, 2004, @ 17:16
Translating loss
› from hightext

After being refused entry to the cinema with my friend Polly because her 6 month old baby was deemed in danger of corruption from a 15 certificate film, I went to see "Lost in Translation" with the hubby instead. This... More »

土, 2 21, 2004, @ 15:05
Translating loss
› from hightext

After being refused entry to the cinema with my friend Polly because her 6 month old baby was deemed in danger of corruption from a 15 certificate film, I went to see "Lost in Translation" with the hubby instead. This... More »

土, 2 21, 2004, @ 15:07
Translating loss
› from hightext

After being refused entry to the cinema with my friend Polly because her 6 month old baby was deemed in danger of corruption from a 15 certificate film, I went to see "Lost in Translation" with the hubby instead. This... More »

日, 4 4, 2004, @ 11:08

These are the sort of articulate posts that grew me to love Joi. More »