2004年02月07日 土曜日

Totally Lost in Translation

by Mizuko Ito


Kiku Day has a scathing review of Lost in Translation in UK's Guardian. Day's review echoes some of the critique in Jane's mostly favorable chanpon.org review and the complaints aired by others and myself in the comments on Jane's review. The review was circulated to me through the East Asian Anthropologists' listserv where there was some lively debate on the topic.

Film reviewers have hailed Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation as though it were the cinematic equivalent of the second coming. One paper even called it a masterpiece. Reading the praise, I couldn't help wondering not only whether I had watched a different movie, but whether the plaudits had come from a parallel universe of values. Lost in Translation is being promoted as a romantic comedy, but there is only one type of humour in the film that I could see: anti-Japanese racism, which is its very spine.

Day echoes the widely voiced criticisms that the film panders to stereotypes of Japanese as small, dark, overly polite, and communicating in bad Engrish. Similar points were raised on chanpon.org as well as in the recent article by Motoko Rich for the New York Times that Justin blogged. But Day goes further by describing some of the more submerged associations in the film. I was particularly struck by her pointing out the contrast between the reverential treatment of "traditional" Japan and the ridicule heaped upon "modern" Japan.

While shoe-horning every possible caricature of modern Japan into her movie, Coppola is respectful of ancient Japan. It is depicted approvingly, though ancient traditions have very little to do with the contemporary Japanese. The good Japan, according to this director, is Buddhist monks chanting, ancient temples, flower arrangement; meanwhile she portrays the contemporary Japanese as ridiculous people who have lost contact with their own culture.

The idea that "real" Japanese culture is more Kyoto Zen garden than Tokyo Park Hyatt has a stubborn resilience, and leads to the more problematic corollary embedded in Lost in Translation. Despite the excesses of Western mimicry, the Japanese will never be able to fully participate in a Western-dominated international cosmopolitanism. The film deftly erases Japanese interculturalism and cosmopolitanism by suggesting that even at that most trendy of icons of Westernization -- the Park Hyatt in Tokyo -- Japanese can't fully participate among the trasnational cultural elite congregating there. What we say will inevitably fall on uncomprehending ears.

We could consider instead ongoing cultural co-mingling, particularly in the past century: Japanese imperialism and WWII, the US postwar occupation, the subsequent "economic miracle" that made Japan a player in transnational capital flows, as well as the increasingly speedy flows of culture and commodities between Japan and the rest of the world defining Japan's current gross national cool. I live in a parallel universe, together with Day, that sees Japanese culture as inherently hybrid and cosmopolitan, and meaningful translation across cultures as a cornerstone of everyday life in a city like Tokyo.

Day's critique helped me get a handle on my own ambivalence and difficulty with identifying with any of the representations of the film. As an intercultural Japanese of a somewhat postmodern variety, it makes sense that I object to "authentic" Japanese culture being portrayed as fundamentally apart from frenetically modernized Tokyo chanpon culture. Despite the many technical virtues of the film, which Jane has covered with lovely detail, I see it as a set-back in our struggle for recognition of a culturally diverse Japan.

Posted by Mizuko Ito at 2004年02月07日 22:57

1- buck

The only remarkable thing about Lost in Translation is that it unveils the way of thinking of the young American elite, where the world is a playground experience through individualism and "sensibility", which could otherwise be named involuntary colonialism.

No wonder the "Exile" included Sofia Coppola as number 10 in the top 50 jokes of 2003.

Check it out:

"young American elite" "involuntary colonialism" give me a break.

I was an exchange student and lived in Japan for a bit. I love Lost in Translation and did not think it was racist in the least

I would like to think that the jokes are on Bob Harris for being an ugly american overseas. Also the culture shock that they charectors feel is mirrored with their displacement from their current positions in life. I think it is a pretty harmess movie.

I could go on about negative view of gaijin in anime but I digress.

3- Mimi

I just got emailed <a href="http://www.dvrepublic.org/message/post.cfm?EDsubject=Is%20the%20Film%20%27Lost%20in%20Translation%27%20Racist%3F">a link to another review of the racism question in this film</a>. This review does a very detailed and nuanced analysis of the racist logic of the film. The responses to the review are also indicative of the discussions I have had with people on this topic.

4- G

I just watched Lost in Translation and I really don't see how it could be labeled as racist. Anyone that has travelled outside of their safe culture bubble will understand and find humor in the film without ever thinking it represents Japan as a whole.

5- Mimi

I am willing to accept that many people do not see this as a racist film and there likely was no racist intent in its creation. But I guess I would hope that people would be willing to also accept that some people experience it as a racist film.

I think the film has provoked divergent responses because the racism in the film is not explicit and intentional but implicit and submerged.

One thing I found interesting about the dvrepublic review that I posted above was that it was dealing with more with issues of submerged racism rather than explicit racism. A lot of people might not consider this more submerged form of racism "real" racism at all. It takes a trained eye to see the more submerged forms.

I was particularly struck by Paik's assertion that depicting characters as one-dimensional (whether negative or positive or ridiculous) is a racist position. One might want to argue whether this really constitutes racism, but it seems clear that the film does use this as a device. Paik writes "An important distinction needs to be made: it is not negative representation of the Japanese, but, rather, the shirking of responsibility to depict them as full human beings, either negative or positive, which constitutes discrimination, or racism. "

6- buck

Rascist or not, Sofia's bad choice.

The best review for Lost in Translation is here: http://www.exile.ru/183/183131201.html

Take what you want from this film. When viewing the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, some may see a masterpeice, some an anti-woman statement, some racist propeganda, some a waste of paint, some grafitti. I give you your impression, I keep my own. I do however enjoy seeing what other people expect from the mindless media noise we live it. For the record, if I can kill a few brain cells and waste a couple of hours, I consider the ticket price well spent.

Admittedly this movie doesn't speak to everyone, but it does speak to me. Maybe because I am expat living in Japan. Maybe because I spend a lot of my time isolated in foreign countries locked in hotels with total strangers. Maybe I just like Bill Murray.

To me the movie wasn't about Japan. I'll stretch a bit and say I don't think it was for Coppola either. Japan made a great backdrop because of 2 facts. Few Japanese speak English and few Americans speak Japanese.

I can speak from experience about what it is like to live in a hotel in a country where you don't speak the language. Sometimes your perspectives change. Old rules don't seem to apply anymore and you don't know the new ones. You might become friends with someone you would never even notice. You may be interested in things you didn't notice before. I saw in this movie a lot of themes common in my lifestyle. I am sure many people saw this movie and did not see the same.

Still, I am not really one to look to mass media to educate me about the "real" world. I don't go to movies to help adjust my value system.

I just go to hear a good story, and maybe eat some popcorn.

Dude no one care about what some Russian website with bad spelling care about Hollywood except the Russians. This movie still got nominated for more than two Oscars.

Given the racial stereotypes of American and westerners in contemporary Japanese media this movie potential offensive material is laughable.

Besides my uncle was born in a Japanese-American internment camp in WW2. That is real racism. This is just a cute movie.

9- Mimi

Jake - Based on the simple logic of two-wrongs-don't-make-a-right, I don't think racism by Japanese media creators makes racism by an American creator okay or "laughable." Both are problematic.

A movie nominated for several oscars should also be held to a heightened standard.

10- Mike

Should a director assume her audience is able to differentiate between the attitudes of the characters and what is acceptable behavior? There are movies that portray killers, career criminals, and dysfunctional families. Does that mean we should emulate the characters on the screen? I think not. There's no reason to think the characters of Lost in Translation are any different. They're characters in a movie, not necessarily role models or champions of politically correct interaction.

Part of the humor of Lost in Translation is the somewhat awkward, uncomfortable type of laughter. Ever laughed in frustration as an older relative or acquaintance makes some judgmental or stereotypical comment? I felt uneasy every time one of the characters would mock their hosts, but that doesn't mean it wasn't worth a laugh -- but not at the expense of the Japanese character.

I had to stifle a laugh earlier today because a friend's mother had trouble understanding an employee at a sandwich shop because the man had an Indian accent. Does that make me a racist, or mean for laughing at her lack of comprehension? Maybe the fact that laughter can be a coping mechanism is what has really been lost.

11- Troy

All art, by definition, is caricature.

A superficial, "cherry-picking" depiction of gaijin experience in modern Tokyo more or less requires pushing the surrounding cast into background stereotypes, just as "A Taxing Woman [Marusa-no-Onna]" did to its non-protagonists.

It's not a documentary, and while the writing could perhaps be naive, I prefer to see the Japan in the movie as a stand-in for any alien place. How can that be racist?

12- David

I thought the movie was a chronicle of jet lag, disconnect and middle age failure to connect. I had a strong urge to leave before it finished....


I haven't seen the movie, so I can't comment on the actual content itself, but looking through these (and other) comments I think the biggest reaction seems to be to the word 'racist'.

Using it seems to infer some kind of deliberacy on the part of the person accused of it, but, of course, that isn't the correct definition. Perhaps, in some circumstances, unintentional racisim is worse than deliberate racisim. However, what's even more worse, is not being able to understand someone else's opinion when it differ's from your own and I can see that a lot in these comments...

"Dude no one care about what some Russian website with bad spelling care about Hollywood except the Russians..."

Not to mention bad grammar and sentence construction eh? Dude? :P

14- Mimi

Update, <a href="http://joi.ito.com/archives/2004/02/15/asianmediawatchnet_mobilizes_against_lost_in_translation.html#comments"> Joi has blogged</a> about asianmediawatch.net on joi.ito.com. They are doing a campaign encouraging people to vote against LIT for the academy awards.

Pete - I agree. A big part of the disagreement seems to have to do with different definitions of racism. That may also be behind the defensiveness and unwillingness to accept certain reactions to the film. After all, most people don't want to think that they liked and identified with a racist movie. It does seem like LIT is a good litmus test for what one defines as racism.

For myself, I see racism as part of the implicit and underlying logic of culture and society. This is how both <a href="http://www.dvrepublic.org/message/post.cfm?EDsubject=Is%20the%20Film%20%27Lost%20in%20Translation%27%20Racist%3F"> Paik</a> and <a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/comment/story/0,3604,1130137,00.html">Day</a> seem to view it as well. This is contrast to viewing racism as an intentional stance--that is somebody has to be actively "doing" racism, like explicitly putting somebody down because of their race. This is where we get the argument that the film is not racist because the Japanese don't necessarily look "bad" and some of the white characters look ridiculous too. But Paik argues that submerged racism is not about whether certain races are depicted "negatively," but is about (1) whether race is presented as an essential difference that categorizes people as a certain type, and (2) whether people of a certain race are systematically depicted in a one-dimensional and dehumanized way that resists identification. In other words, are the characters who are not of the referent race (here, Japanese) depicted as fundamentally different, or "other" than the characters of the referent race (here, white Americans)? As a viewer, can you find ways of identifying with with the Japanese characters? I think LIT passes the litmus test for explicit racism but not submerged racism.

Personally, I think it is important to come to terms with the fact that we are immersed in racism (or racial divides if you prefer) even though we may not want to be -- whether that is the segregated neighborhoods of American cities, Japan's immigration policy, or the systematic lack of non-stereotyped Asian protagonists on Hollywood screens.

Is it racist to celebrate and perpetuate racial categorization through one's art, to sharpen the vision of a racially divided world? Some apparently feel that this is okay since it is "true": ie. "Japanese really do speak terrible English and are small dark and inscrutable." I prefer to see art that challenges these established racial hierarchies.

I also see art and entertainment as consequential because it works at these implicit levels even though people may not feel that they have taken the representations seriously at an explicit level. For example, what does it do to Asian kids growing up in the US if they have never seen an Asian protagonist on film except as a martial artist?

I am personally not invested in "racism" as the word we use to describe for this particular artistic and political choice, but I do care about the choice itself. Asianmediawatch does not use the term racism but "offensive representation of Asians."

Tangentially, I felt that the the Australian Film, Japanese Story, really worked to challenge existing racial divides and was also a great film. Not surprisingly, it has gotten hardly any attention in the US.

15- nard

I enjoyed this film.

I saw it as an American film about American characters, with Tokyo as a setting. The treatment of people and place within that setting was always going to be shallow...

Not much different to American movies set in London, or Australia... national types are used for humour, or just as quick colour... but I think these are cultural rather than racial stereotypes.

Also, I thought that the film took the mickey out of the 'business' environment, but was very sympathetic to the younger Japanese characters partying out. Which is as it should be.

16- Troy

Exploring (and caricaturing) cultural differences in a work of fiction for dramatic effect is not racism, nor a form of racism. The fish-out-of-water plot device is truly time-honored if not time-worn.

What is culture but a collection of differences?

Mimi, you write of racial divides, and they certainly exist in backwaters of rural america, but here in California fully assimilated asian americans are not 'divided' at all, ie. the only divides are cultural, and are not based on skin color or ancestry.

Paik charges the film is racist since the Japanese characters serve as clowns and not sympathetic protagonists ("full human beings"). Of course! The movie ISN'T ABOUT THE JAPANESE! Normal "full human beings" aren't plot-worthy and don't get screentime! Paik's charges of cultural arrogance are well-taken -- but that's who we are -- everyone is normally immersed and chauvinistic about their own culture.

As for Day's criticisms, she (literally) loses the plot, too. Yes, Japanese are indeed shorter than a tall American (this was evident to me on the every trainride in Japan), and it serves the movie's story to portray this, and yes modern things in even Tokyo aren't quite the same as the US, this again is PART OF THE STORY. Day says this movie should be "shunned" for its negative portrayal of modern Japanese culture, but IMV this is just rampant political correctness. Day does bring up the valid point of prejudice, and this movie, in isolation, does reinforce "negative" cultural stereotypes. But the plot demanded it, and the story would be weakened if not destroyed if were watered down to satisfy the PC police.

That westerners could experience alienation in such a seemingly westernized & "modernized" society as Japan is an interesting story, and something I experienced first-hand in the early 90's.

I'd love to see a movie of two Japanese experiencing all the comicly stupid things Americans do, like eg. wear their shoes inside the house. Would this be racist? No, it'd be part of A GREAT STORY and thus good art.

The argument about this movie is if the mere existence of racial and cultural differences are shown in a movie by a film maker that is not of the same background then it is racist. Well by that definition you can strike out almost every film coming out of Hong Kong and Tokyo that features westerners.

If you look at Wong-Kar Wai's Chunking Express to the same light as Lost in Translation then the untranslated Indian immigrants family who are drug mules must be racist and the westerner drug smuggler must be racist as well. Also if you look at the racial stereotypes of westerners in most Jackie Chan movies they are more offensive than anything that come out of Lost in Translation. Take the bungling cowboy hat wearing CIA agents in Who am I or the evil imperialistic British overlords in Drunken Master 2, or even the way over the top offensive racial stereotypes in Rumble in the Bronx.

Japanese Anime and Manga is no better. Take Kimagure Orange Road. The only westerners in it are rapist American troops.

Do I really think that Wong-Kar Wai and Jackie Chan are black hearted racists? No I do not.

Film makers are creative professionals and if you take the existence of racial and cultural differences as patently offensive then you are severely limiting your enjoyment of the art form.

So if you think this movie is offensive then you should go microwave your Jackie Chan and Wong-Kar Wai DVDs and VCDs.

18- Troy

Jake: the "two wrongs don't make a right" argument does have currency against your position.

The question of stereotypes is one of fairness . . . if the ONLY view of modern Japanese culture is stereotypical it engenders prejudice/bigotry and their big brother "Orientalism".

As I posted on Joi's site, I don't lay the negative stereotyping in LIT at Sofia's feet -- she was just using the source material at hand in crafting her work -- but the in-toto lack of positive media portrayals of modern asia (while hearkening to the purity of asian traditions) is somewhat concerning.

But to be fair, since "You Only Live Twice" in 1967 we've seen relatively few movies: Gung Ho, Black Rain, Mr Baseball, Rising Sun presenting Japanese cultural stereotypes (for good, bad, or indifferent).

So what you want totally unoffensive cinema that is sterile and bland as the Teletubbies? Art should not be safe or sanitized.

20- Troy

Jake, making caricatures of opposing arguments is known as the "strawman fallacy".

Ito's closing to her post: "I see it as a set-back in our struggle for recognition of a culturally diverse Japan." is correct, as far as it goes, simply due to the fact that this movie will be the ONLY view of modern Japanese culture "Hollywood" will manufacture for some time.

I for one categorically reject the cries of "Racism!" and "Cultural Imperialism!" directed at the filmmaker, but, putting the shoe on the other foot, how would YOU feel if the ONLY depictions of Americans in world cinema was of the Jackie Chan and Kimagure Orange Road caricatures? ? ? See their point?

21- michael

Personally, I felt this movie is not made from any racist sensibilities. I just think the Sophia Coppela may be a little isolated and stuck up in her views of foreign culture.

I feel that the two main characters represent perfrectly the ideals and mindsets of the stereotypical american tourists.

It probably didnt even cross her mind that to laugh in the face of an entire race because of the differences between their language and ours is not such a great joke after all.

While I enjoyed the movie, and she is an excellent cinemotographer, her narrow minded and simplistic ideoligies not only of japanese culture (underlying classic japanese culture crushed by modern living, with an assortment of 'kooky' foriegn traits emerging (flower arranging, ceremony in the park, etc) but also of american culture and the need for a 'deeper meaning' in her movie did grate.

I dont think shes a racist, just a little, ahem, 'simple'. Like those wqho support american foriegn policy, yeah?

22- Troy

"It probably didnt even cross her mind that to laugh in the face of an entire race because of the differences between their language and ours is not such a great joke after all."

ah, I hear the sirens of the PC police...

I lived & worked in Tokyo for nearly 8 years but also took back with me a rather superficial understanding of the society -- and not for lack of trying.

Part of the issue is that Japan is not a society that westerners can necessarily gracefully assimilate into, leaving us with a spectrum of misfits ranging from the talento David Spector to Arudou Debito.

Mimi, have you seen 'Darby O'Gill and the Little People'? Or even 'The Quiet Man'? Well worth comparing to 'Lost in Translation'.

The only remarkable thting about racism comments about Lost in Translation is hat it unveils the way of thinking of the English-speaking Japanese elite,
who sees "small, dark, overly polite and communicating in bad English as Japanese character and an exsisting gulf between modern and old culture" as rasism tells that their view that "small, dark, overly polite and communicating in bad English and modern Japanese culture are inferior than tall white no polite English speaking American. As am a non-elite Japanese, should I rise my hight (how?), bleach skins like Michel Jackson, forget sensible manners and giving up my rich and beautiful Japanese for English fluency?

25- Mimi

This has been a fascinating debate and I’ve learned quite a bit from it.

First a few specific responses.

Antoin: I haven’t seen those movies. I’ll try to check them out. I saw you posted a bit about them on the thread on Joi’s site. Yes, I can imagine LIT is part of a larger representational tradition that extends well beyond the Japan/US frame.

Troy: I really appreciate your doing translation work even for positions you don’t necessarily agree with. A valuable skill in this terrain for sure.

Mayumix: Thank you for demonstrating diversity among Japanese opinion. I think you are misunderstanding my position on this issue, but I can see how you got to where you are based on my post. Your annoyance at foreign-educated Japanese elites is fair enough, but I really did not mean to set up English speaking elites as the standard for all Japanese.

Let me try a different angle. My post was written to make a point in the specific context of this site which is designed for Japanese who don’t fit in to mainstream Japanese culture and society. I have grown up hearing (understandably) from people with no ill intention on both sides of the Pacific that I am “not Japanese” because my English is good and my Japanese is substandard and I often talk and act like an American. I married an Anglo-American and my little boy, growing up biculturally in LA, is destined to look more like Bill Murray than Watanabe Ken. Majority opinion would not consider me or my son “Japanese.” I want to argue that we are Japanese too, just like Mayumix and just like the monks chanting chanpon verse in a Kyoto temple. My hope is that the category of “Japanese” can be large enough to include us under its umbrella without anybody having to dye their hair or feel bad about their language competence. A lot of people in my position would probably not care less if they count as Japanese or not. I do. Yes, I am sensitive about it. It grates on me when a movie implies that Japanese categorically look and act and talk a certain way because that is often not how my family and I look and act. I am not asking for you to feel sorry for me. I am not a victim and being culturally mixed has been a positive in my life. But I do have a voice and I will use it to stick up for a minority opinion that I think is legitimate.

Now, reviews like Day’s and Paik’s go one step further and say that not only does the movie stereotype, it also associates that stereotype with negative and disempowered images which are not necessarily inherent in the “type” itself. For the most part, I agree, though I don’t fully share the same viewpoint or tone. One thing I have learned from this thread is that just the word “racism” is flamebait in politically mixed company and I don’t like the polarization it invites. It does have a more specific analytic meaning among my crowd of cultural critics, as you can see if you read Paik carefully. But I now understand a little better the connotations of the term outside of my academic bubble.

There is one other issue I think deserves to be called out because I think some of us are talking past each other in this thread. This is pedantic, sorry. From the point of view of a cultural critic like myself, the issue of “fidelity” or “realism” is related but different from the issue of representational politics. Stereotypes in the media function as a way of representing and saying something about the “real world,” but they also function as a device for creating new meanings and ways of thinking and feeling. In the case of LIT, yes, the stereotypes of both Japanese and Americans ring true as well as the experience of being in an unfamiliar place. I don’t think Paik or Day would dispute this. Where there is dispute is about is how the stereotypes are associated with other issues, images, and power differentials, or politics if you like. This is a dispute about connotation and implication, rather than direct reference.

Just to throw out an example that we have flirted with in this thread: the “PC thought police,” one of my favorite epithets for illustrating effective uses of rhetoric. The idea of the thought police harkens back to Orwellian fears and fantasies of a coercive state that “whitewashed” the minds of its citizens into a version of “politically correctness.” The image works well in the context of current identity politics because it mobilizes fear and defensiveness associated with this vivid but fictional future. It also positions your sympathies with the poor guy who has just discovered the PC police knocking at his door. Cultural critics hate being positioned on the other side of that door, naturally, particularly because we don’t have that kind of power to coerce (though apparently we can incite fear and defensiveness). Plus we don’t feel the state is on our side. I could complain until I am blue in the face that I am not an officer of the thought police and am just a geek shooting spitballs at jocks from the corner of the room, but the image still works. The effectiveness of this image lies in uniting a stereotype of the shrill “politically correct” activist with the image of a coercive state. The image itself makes an argument and stakes a political position. “Racism” and “cultural imperialism” are comparable rhetorical tools from my corner of the political spectrum.

Back to LIT: I don’t see stereotyped depictions of national/racial character as racist in and of themselves any more than a simplified characterization of a left-wing activist is necessarily good or bad. It is the associations made between the stereotype and other negative images that *can* constitute racism, such as when people of a certain type are characterized as essentially different and inferior to others of a certain type. I think LIT does associate the stereotype of modern Japan with more negative and bizarre qualities than positive, and tends to cluster more sympathetic qualities around the two American protagonists. I can understand how others read this differently and for some the depictions of Japan were not significant (ie. The movie did not say much about Japan to some). Minus the flaming, this part feels like healthy diversity of opinion to me.

Japanese Story also makes use of stereotypes, but it handles them quite differently from LIT, creating two very human and sympathetic characters connecting across a stereotypical cultural and racial divide. I have been meaning to blog a review of this movie because it nicely illustrates how it is not stereotyping per se, but what the stereotypes are associated with that defines the representational politics. The devil is in the details.

The issue of representation of media images in the overall media ecology is another important angle that Troy has brought up. But I’ve already gone on for much too long so will shut up now and try to get that review written….

I'mSorry that I am a newcomer. Here is abechan which lives in Kyoto.

Since Japan was the closed island country, it thinks that it has created original culture.

I think that a present-day Japanese should also learn an important thing from the past Japanese tradition and history.

Japanese people can study from history of Japan. For example, the courtesy method, Bushido, the Japanese spirit, and delicate technology.

27- Troy

mimi: I think that the filmmaker has a duty as storymaker to slant the film toward the POV of the protagonists . . . if they are "shallow" and/or not familiar with Japanese language/culture, then we will see the world presented from *their* viewpoint, not some objective reality.

A somewhat distorted/caricaturized view of the Japanese will result; both positives and negatives will be accentuated. Anything less would destroy the movie's narrative.

You seem to think that this distorted narrative makes the movie a net-negative in and of itself . . . but I would have LOVED to have made a movie so well-constructed as this. This movie has grossed $40M in the US so far, which compares favorably to Bill's other interesting comedy, _Groundhog Day_ ($70M). While it tells its story at the expense of the Japanese, the observations it makes *are* pulled from reality and I'm glad they are now on film as a document of early 21st century Tokyo.

aside: I've thought of the perfect "anti-Lost In Translation": a story involving the manzai duo "Othello" in LA! Wouldn't that be a hoot!

aside2: I'll leave off the Japanese vs. American debate, with just the standard tall-white-guy-in-Japan-for-xxx-years I probably don't have too much to add.

28- Mimi

Abechan, chanpon.orgへようこそ!m(_ _)m


Maybe it seems strange that somebody so influenced by the US can still feel Japanese, and relate to both the older parts and the newer parts (?)

I hope you are finding something in our mixed-up web site that you can relate to!

Troy: just one small clarification. I am not trying to say that the film is "net negative" in some absolute sense. It was net negative *for me*.

29- Troy

mimi: I can see that. Kinda like my reaction to the "Jackass" movie being guerilla-filmed in Tokyo, I suppose.

<a href="http://www.lost-in-translation.com/qaPopup.html">btw, here's an interview with Coppola</a>

ps one of my more negative cultural experiences in Japan was sitting on the Ryoan-ji platform admiring the rocks when 2 obasans just started chatting and chatting behind me...

Post Oscar Statement

About three weeks ago we launched a small campaign called "Lost-In-
Racism" to encourage Academy voters not to vote for Focus
Features' "Lost in Translation." However with limited resources and
time, we were unable to reach more than a small percentage of the
Academy. "Lost In Translation" is going home with only Best Original
Screenplay due to the lack of competition. At least it is not going
home with Best Picture or Director, where we think is the most
inappropriate. However, because this film will now be a part of
Oscar history, it is more important than ever that we let the
entertainment community know we feel it makes a mockery of an entire
nation and race. We would like to thank any Academy voters who
listened and agreed with our complaints and also the volunteers in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

This campaign gave voters (who mostly are working professional in the
industry) an opportunity to open their eyes to the issues Asian Americans/Asians face in American entertainment. There are some
progresses for the past few years especially in TV shows but this
really should be an ongoing effort. Maybe next time when those people
make movies or TV shows, they may remember this campaign and make more
effort for better and balanced portrayals of Asian Americans/Asians.
If that's the case, I think we are indeed successful. This is not a
one shot deal for us. Oscar is over. We are now resuming more positive activities such as supporting our APA artists and facilitating media-related discussions that are important to the APA (Asian and Pacific Americans) community while we continue speaking up against stereotypical portrays of Asian/Asian American in American

We look forward to films that we, as Asian Americans can feel truly proud of in future Oscar Race.

Tom Roman
Asian Mediawatch

31- Olof Hellman

Kiku Day's review makes a lot of sense if you think of Lost In Translation as a comedy -- silly gaijin getting cheap laughs from linguistic challenges faced by the Japanese would be clear racism.

However, I haven't actually heard anyone who has seen the movie call it a comedy. Sure it had a few laughter-inducing moments, but it is fundamentally a depressing movie about two mislocated Americans trying to figure out who they are. In the end, they look far more ridiculous than the Japanese characters who surround them. Taken that way, if the movie is anti-Japanese, then it must be doubly so anti-American.

Then the question turns to: "could the language-barrier gags have been avoided entirely?" i.e. would it have been possible for Coppola to make a movie about the same two mislocated and soul-searching gaijin in Japan who never, ever have language related difficulties? Would that movie have been more realistic or made a stronger statement about self-discovery?

Can you just imagine how the hospital scene with Charlotte and the doctor would play out in this parallel no-language-problems Tokyo universe? Either

A) it would turn out that the doctor had actually attended UCLA med school and spoke perfect English
B) an interpreter would magically appear in the examination room to go over the details on the x-ray with the doctor and tell Charlotte all about proper foot care
C) Charlotte would whip out her handy-dandy Japanese phrase book which conveniently would contain "Gee, I'm glad its only a contusion of the fourth metatarsal".

In any of those cases, the movie would truly become a comedy.

32- buck

Michael has a very strong point. Sofia is a simple-minded person, even if she thinks otherwise. As a director, she totally identifies herself with Scarlett Johansson´s character (a "sensible" girl with a Yale degree), but who cannot go beyond the mere touristical view of Japan.

One scene, however, made my Japanese friends really upset: Bill Murray trying to have a shower, insinuating that Japanese people are short. The same thing happens again when Bill Murray is in the elevator with a bunch of "small" Japanese folks.

And to make things worse, this is just a bad & naïve movie. I would simply ignore it if people had not taken it so seriously.

33- katherine

In his comment above, Olaf Hellman writes:

"Kiku Day's review makes a lot of sense if you think of Lost In Translation as a comedy -- silly gaijin getting cheap laughs from linguistic challenges faced by the Japanese would be clear racism. However, I haven't actually heard anyone who has seen the movie call it a comedy."

Well, the American media is calling the film a comedy. A "romantic" comedy.

How else might you explain LIT being placed in the MUSICAL or COMEDY category for the Golden Globes? It was not even considered as a dramatic film, nor has it been portrayed that way in the press. And let's just remember where all the "comedy" in this film comes from...

34- Nanbanjin

Anyone here read Japanese? If you do try the following forum

<a href="http://www.jinaonline.org/forum/read.php?f=9&i=26&t=26#reply_26">http://www.jinaonline.org/forum/read.php?f=9&i=26&t=26#reply_26</a>

A few Japanese people express mild feelings that they are treated unfairly but in the most the comments are glowing.
The following review is also interesting.

<a href="http://blog.neoteny.com/chika/archives/006641.html">http://blog.neoteny.com/chika/archives/006641.html</a>

I hope nothing is 'lost in translation' (sorry!!) in the following:

"It seems that there have been quite a few comments among Americans that the movie 'Lost in Translation' is "Racially prejudiced against Japanese people". By this I mean on internet movie forums etc. They seem to think that there are some things (in the movie) that are just too weird, and that this must be an expression of discrimination. However, in my opinion this movie is "Japan as it really is" (I could have translated this as 'Japan in a nutshell').

I personally found myself thinking that for someone who knows nothing about Japan, Japan must be full of things that would make you laugh in disbelief. .... (there is a reference here to another movie reviewer who lives on the east coast of Japan)....(she) also saw this movie and said that is made her feel homesick (for Tokyo), and I think this shows just how accurate this movie is in depicting the truth.

I also found myself thinking "the loneliness expressed in this movie is a loneliness felt not just by people from other countries coming to Japan, but also by Japanese people who have been born and bred in Japan".
By this I mean the feeling that people all around seem to be casually enjoying the same things, but you feel that you feel like you yourself are somehow different.""

I read the article by Kiku Day and my first impression was that it was a clever angle for a half Japanese person to take because it is on a lateral tangent to the general appraisal of the film and because being half Japanese not many western reviewers would have to courage to confront her directly.
However I can't help but feel that the article was contrived and levels quite hurtful and untrue criticisms at the director.

The portrayal of the western people in the movie was less than flattering.
Scarlett Johansson's character seemed dopey to me and her boyfriend seemed worse. Bull Murray's 'Bob' was a fairly disgusting old man. You never even really got to know whether he slept with the Japanese prostitute that came to his room. When I think about it, once he got over the shock of the unusual foreplay it wouldn't have been out of character for him to have done so.
I don't think much needs to be said about the bimbo film star character.

At 176cm even I had plenty of experiences in Japan like the shower head scene. Japanese people aren't all short, but when I got home I thought all of my friends were giants. Hanging around in western hotels in Japan also made me think that all Americans must be huge.

The only thing I really didn't like about the movie was that it made me jealous of Sophia Coppola for being rich and brilliant.

35- Nanbanjin

Above, Olaf Hellman writes:

"Can you just imagine how the hospital scene with Charlotte and the doctor would play out in this parallel no-language-problems Tokyo universe? Either

A) it would turn out that the doctor had actually attended UCLA med school and spoke perfect English
B) an interpreter would magically appear in the examination room to go over the details on the x-ray with the doctor and tell Charlotte all about proper foot care
C) Charlotte would whip out her handy-dandy Japanese phrase book which conveniently would contain "Gee, I'm glad its only a contusion of the fourth metatarsal". "


I have been in a Japanese hospital as a translator and that is just what it is like. The Japanese medical system is based on the German medical system, so it is very different from what you migh expect. Japanese doctors even take notes and write reports in German. No kidding. It is an entirely foriegn experience.

36- Olof Hellman

I commented above that I have never heard anyone who has actually seen the film call it a comedy, and Katherine rightly responds saying that "Well, the American Media is calling the film a comedy. A 'romantic' comedy."

I'll stand by my assertion, and posit that the American media has never seen the movie. Not once, or else they'd never call it a comedy.

If I were less cynical, I'd say that, well, yes, they actually had seen the movie, but if they actually told the truth about it -- and marketed LIT as a sorry, depressing tribute to a washed-up ignoramus American actor squeezing his last ounce of easily-earned cash out of Japan and a Yale near-dropout trying to mortgage some meaning out of her empty, valueless life -- that they would soon be unemployed.

But I'm convinced that no member of the American Media who thought it was a comedy had the attention span to sit through even ten minutes of the movie (exempting, of course, the intro starring Scarlett Johansson's backside).

But I'll admit, perhaps I am giving them too much credit, and maybe they are just bumpkins who don't know any better. But until it is proven so, I'll persist in thinking that the American Media just snuck out of Lost In Translation and slipped into a showing of Cheaper by the Dozen.

37- Nanbanjin

I'll back you up all the way there.
Just because a film has funny scenes doesn't mean it isn't serious or realistic. Otherwise you could argue that the Last Samurai was true to life because it didn't have much humour in it.
My first night in Japan I was in a bath house in a university dormitory and a guy next to me was poking his penis above the water saying "Godzilla". True to the stereotype he wasn't well equipped either, not that I think it matters. Weird things happen when you step out of your own culture. A lot of them are humorous and I don't think it is racist to acknowledge the queerness of the differences - just a part of the learning process.

38- paul

I find it hard to believe that anyone would try to dispute that this is a racist film. The argument that you can show bigotry in your characters without therefore making a racist film is a very important one that often gets overlooked in the U.S. But this film clearly makes a choice portray the Japanese in a certain way. We are invited to join in Bill Murray's sneering comtempt for them.

I would argue that it is a healthy thing not too be overly reverent about taboos such as racism when you're being funny, but Coppola's attempts at humor -- Japanese people are short! they mix up their R' and L's! -- are soooo tired.

And honestly it goes beyond that. The only fleshed out characters are Murray and Johanson (the hot babe with a degree in philosophy that Coppola created as her alter ego). They go through the film with their upper lips metaphorically curled back at everyone and everything around them, including the clumsy caricatures of Spike Jonze and Cameron Diaz that I imagine were written as a vendetta by the too-sensitive-for-this-world Coppola.

I found this movie extrememly immature and mean spirited.

39- justin

I was talking about this with a friend yesterday, and we wondered if Lost in Tranlsation will survive the test of the decades. Will this movie appear embarassingly racist in twenty or thirty years? The way Long Duck Dong in "Sixteen Candles" made me cringe not too long after he slurred Ls and Rs through his buck teeth. I'm not sure it will appear to be that bad, but I'm not sure the cultural difference humor in the movie will age well.

40- Nanbanjin

Japanese people are on average shorter than western people. They also have difficulty pronouncing Ls and Rs.
These things were noted in Lost in Translation but they were not ridiculed.
People who think that merely pointing out a difference is racist and insulting assume that being short and not being able to speak English confidently is an inferiority.
When I saw this movie I did not find myself thinking "look at those short funny Japanese people aren't they strange". Difference in culture is used as a device to highlight the isolation of the two main characters. Japanese people are shown as different, not inferior. People who assume that the differences are inferiorities are themselves guilty of racism.

41- paul

I find it hard to believe that anyone would try to dispute that this is a racist film. The argument that you can show bigotry in your characters without therefore making a racist film is a very important one that often gets overlooked in the U.S. But this film clearly makes a choice portray the Japanese in a certain way. We are invited to join in Bill Murray's sneering comtempt for them.

I would argue that it is a healthy thing not too be overly reverent about taboos such as racism when you're being funny, but Coppola's attempts at humor -- Japanese people are short! they mix up their R' and L's! -- are soooo tired.

And honestly it goes beyond that. The only fleshed out characters are Murray and Johanson (the hot babe with a degree in philosophy that Coppola created as her alter ego). They go through the film with their upper lips metaphorically curled back at everyone and everything around them, including the clumsy caricatures of Spike Jonze and Cameron Diaz that I imagine were written as a vendetta by the too-sensitive-for-this-world Coppola.

I found this movie extrememly immature and mean spirited.

42- Nanbanjin

The Japanese portrays Japanese people fairly faithfully. If you think that Japanese people should be insulted by the way they are portrayed then you are suggesting that Japanese people should be ashamed of the way they are. Try learning Japanese and read some Japanese forums on the subject. You will find some people who find the movie mistreats them, but they usually seem pretty insecure to start with. The majority of Japanese who see this movie like it and are happy with the portrayal of Japan in it. Most of them wonder why western people would even care.
Put yourself in their shoes. You see a movie that you think portrays you as yourself and then you get a whole bunch of foriegners telling you that you should find this in some way insulting.

Paul, I will keep disputing that this movie is racist as long as you are able to keep using cut and paste.

43- Nanbanjin

I mean Copy - Paste

44- arichan

Well....this is a very interesting debate. I saw LIT when I was back for a month's visit in Australia (I have lived in Japan - mostly Tokyo - for more than 8 years). Everyone kept on asking me what I thought of the film and how realistic it was.

I thought the movie as a whole was well done, with Bill Murray portrayal as the almost has-been actor brilliant. I thought a lot of things were very accurate - particularly that feeling of being out-of sinc with the foreign environment around them. I particularly loved the scene in the hospital - not the doctor but the old lady trying to communicate with Bill Murray and finding it all hilarious - been there and done that. The scene of them partying is also accurate - as anyone who has had one of those drunken wierd Roppongi nights (or sucklike) can testify.
These all emphasise the feeling of dislocation and wierdness..the magic mystery tour where you are never sure what is going on.
However, I thought that a good movie was spoiled by going for the cheap laugh. It is easy to get a laugh by making fun of the L R mistake (and what was with that wierd scene with the prostitute), and height...and I think that Coppola succumbed to the easy laugh a few too many times.
I would defend the fact that all the Japanese characters are one-dimensional by pointing out that the theme of the movie is the characters' dislocation from their environment....as the audience we are seeing Tokyo and the Japanese people around them through the eyes of the two main characters, if we were able to identy more with any of the other character we would lose that feeling.
Also it is not just the Japanese characters that are one dimensional - all the minor characters are cardboard cut-outs surrounding the two main characters.

I loved the visual scenes of Tokyo...very visually evocative of the Tokyo I know.

45- Nanbanjin

Since when does every character have to be multi-layered? Didn't Shakespeare have the odd one dimensional character in his plays?
The L/R pronunciation joke is hardly laboured. Do you expect the average call girl in Japan to be a linguistics major?
Other than that scene the only time it is mentioned is when Charlotte says "Why do they mix up their Ls and Rs" or something like that. Big deal. It's not like every second street vendor was trying to sell them 'fried lice' or there were banners saying 'we play for your erection'.
I have lost count of the number of Japanese people who have told me that Australians don't know how to pronounce English vowels correctly. They've got this joke about the way Australians 'day' sounds like 'die'. It goes 'australians go do hospital to die!'. Ha ha. While this joke gets boring after the fiftieth time I have never considered it racist. To them this is really how we sound.

I have heard that the movie was based on a true encounter of Sophia Coppolas. I remember seeing Robin Williams on television in Japan in 1996. It was uncannily similar to the scene with Bob on the celebrity show. I can't help but think that Bob is based on Robin Williams. I could certainly see Robin Williams in that situation. I think 1996 would place Sophia Coppola around the right age for the Charlotte character too. Could you imagine Robin Williams retelling the story of the call girl without labouring the poing of "rip" sounding like "lip"?

46- Scot

Well, there doesn't seem to be much middle ground in this thread...

I would like to suggest however, that any "outsider" take on Japan from the point of view of affluent white westerners is going to be fraught with scenes just waiting for a critical race theory interpretation.

And I'm not sure we really needed another view of Japan from white western eyes. The strange truth of it is that many Japanese people do seem to care about what white affluent westerners think of them, or at least care about portrayals of such.

If I could just put out a wish list for movies considering Japan and the Japanese from other "outsider" perspectives, it would look something like this:

-the experience of Brazilian migrant workers in Japan
-the experience of third-generation Korean-Japanese still denied citizenship
-the experience of victims of "Buraku" discrimination in Japan

and more.

If you know of films out there that match these descriptions, please post here or drop me a line.

47- Nanbanjin

Though probably not the social commentary you are after, the movie "Kamikaze Taxi" is about a Brazilian born second generation Japanese who has returned to Japan. The actor is Koji Yakusho, who is really a native born Japanese but I liked his portrayal and thought the movie was pretty cool.

If you read Japanese try some of the movies at the following URL.


For some features on Buraku or Dowamondai
A Korean perspective

Japanese don't have to wait around for western people to point out the short comings of their society. They do have their own movies about these topics.

If you want to see a critique of Japanese society I recommend almost any movie by Shohei Imamura. In particular make sure you see "The Pornographers" and "Vengeance is mine".

I never suggested that Japanese people don't care how they are portrayed, just that generally they don't have any problems with the portrayals found in Lost in Translation.
I was talking with an older Japanese friend the other day who said he didn't like the way Japanese were portrayed in "Bridge Over the River Kwai". In this movie it suggests that Japanese engineers didn't know how to build bridges and were forced to rely on the skill of their British prisoners, which I am happy to agree was probably not true.

You state that "The strange truth of it is that many Japanese people do seem to care about what white affluent westerners think of them, or at least care about portrayals of such."
So Japanese are human! Say you take a photo of someone that you think is perfectly presentable. Depending on the person they might want you to burn it, even if in your view it looks great. Any medium that attempts encapsulate an identity is going to come up against the same problems.

48- horrible Japanese

hehe.. guys.... to conclude..! Japannese asks for this.racism..! they deserve this movie...! they even do not behave nicely.. how can people create a good movie for them...! dont you "The last surmui"?? well. you may think that movie is pushing up Japan... not at all..! Japanese invited an American to help them to kill their own people..! see.... Japanese likes to go after Americans.. so... they dersever this!!

might be worth closing this entry to any further comment - seems the idiots are really out trolling now...

50- closing post

The whole argument has begun appearing somehow rediculous for it sounds as if Japanese people need to get a permission to get angry, acknowledge racism perpetuated as it is against them and protest for it. But the permission from who? You get angry when you get angry. There is no point of seeking or expect any permission from anybody, especially from white America where Hollywood is still domineering and determines and reinforces the social norm and value. What do you expect to hear those who are somehow sitting on top of the social structure and previledged? Japanese people, get angry and make the official protest loud and clear(even though it is a bit too late)! Just say you don't want any more of the friendly form of racism as LIT shamelessly exloited you guys with. You can't count on white american to form any fair argument when their interests are involved. Sophia made her name by this movie, so you guys ended up letting her get the best out of you. If you let it go now, though, just same thing will happen over and over.

I have heard that the Coppolla character was too shallow because she rode a bullet train and went to a temple. But then I heard she was too burgeois for going to expensive karaoke bars. Would we get all mad at an asian character who went to the Statue of Liberty as being too obvious?

I too thought the "L" "R" thing was an old, old observation. Yes, it is true, yes it can be funny when it is actually happening to you, unless you tell yourself "Oh, I shouldn't laugh at this because it lessens me as human being." Snore. I think that's part of the naivte of this film that is both charming and maddening. That the Copolla character goes to a temple and "feels nothing," is SO SAD, because as all yale graduates know, asian religion has real spirituality. That's where the naivte is hilarious. But seeing asian folks struggle with a language that we've all known is true since the "did you know that 50% of chinese doctors have catarcts? yes, the rest drive rincolns" joke: is kinda stupid. My friend, a working asian actress in H-wood calls it the "ching-chong" accent. So if you have a movie in America where every Asian character is creaming the language, I find that offensive, because my encounters with asian folks here suggests that's not the case. But, I would imagine, it's more prevelant over there. So, do you have a movie set in Japan where everyone they encounter speaks perfect english? Is that like the TV shows that always have black females for judges? Do you want your films to portray the way the world should be, or do you want the reality. I'm sorry, by and large Japanese people are shorter than us. And it's one of those things that jumps out at your when you are on your FIRST visit to this place as these people in the movie were. If you have been back and forth a lot, it's not a big deal. Does it mean that when he's the tall guy on the elevator that he's "lording" it over those people? Or, is it real experience someone had? Should he have apologized for his ridiculous Paul Bunyon size and American grandiose? And yet, why couldn't there have been just ONE japanese character that didn't play to type? That's a fair and valid crit.

Most people, do not have degrees in cultural sensitivity. Are not editing themselves. And when they go to a foreign country, they notice it's foreign. In all the obvious ways. If they were brilliant, if they'd been back and forth, they would notice the subtelties. These characters were thus real. Now it may be real sad that the human condition tends to notice the "L" and "R," the short and tall. When I went to this one little town in Thailand, the first thing the tuk-tuk driver was take me to the town square and have everyone line up against me to see how tall I was. Was he perpetuating the tall stereoytpe? Should he have focused on my other subtle differences from his culture? Would I be racist if I put that scene in a movie?

And here's a newsflash: Hollywood always makes broad characterizations, because we as human storytellers tend to do so. An Irishman, a Jew walked into a bar. I'm from a smalltown and I can't stand how urban types portray small towns over and over, always concentrating on the worms under the pretty rocks. The film that I may champion as the way the world should portray the small town, is likely the film that no one else but me wants to watch with all its nuances and correctness.

Finally, no one, but no one wants to be a bad person anymore. And therefore, to call someone "racist" is the big one. You are not a nice person. You are racist. Boo hoo. People catergorize. People notice traits a few times and they ascribe them to a whole culture. Is it wise? No. But man, it's so human. I hang out with the folks who built The Tolerance Museum, and you should hear how often "shiksa" and "schwartzer" fly outta their mouths. The end of "Maus" was one of the truest representations of humanity I ever read. Should we try to see the panopoly of human experience? Of course, but we don't. And as valid as I think it is for people to point out their problems with the portrayals in LIT, just like I rail against a H-wood movies small town interpretation, or their quick and broad strokes of the South (which I am not even from, I just get tired of New Yorker's affecting broad southern accents), I know that to hold myself morally superior ("I am not a racist! I am a good person") is such a sad trophy. This movie, LIT, was true to these people with relatively little knowledge of Tokyo, and a broad enough experience that many people who have been out of sorts and out of the country could relate. Over and over: "it reminds me of when I was ..." So you have to deal with that on some level, despite saying over and over this film is a misrepresentation. It may be a misrepresentation of your reality, and I applaud your efforts to make your voice heard. But it was obviously a very good representation of many people's realities, otherwise it wouldn't have struck a chord.

"Where there is dispute is about is how the stereotypes are associated with other issues, images, and power differentials, or politics if you like. This is a dispute about connotation and implication, rather than direct reference."

But it's not a filmaker's job to make films to ascribe to someone political needs in the world. Someone could have made LIT fufilling all the various functions and politics one desires, and would so many people have connected with it? Academics type spend years writing and fussing about every symbol on earth having some hidden meaning and ruling us all, or destroying us, etc. It's all interesting intellectual exercise, fun to chew over. But, it is like that art that through it's minimalmism encourages the wannabe-artist more, than the art puts forth it's ideas on beauty, and is thus eaiser to attack? If Sophia does not act like the big naive lil' baby girl Yalie in Tokyo: would we all applaud her cultural sensitivity? Or, when she makes fun of people for not knowing that E. Waugh was a man, and yet she thinks a temple should have given her the true fortune cookie spituality: doesn't it just make it better art? All the problems one has with the world that Coppolla presented are entirely valid, but I hold Coppolla to one standard as an artist: was it her world? Did the point-of-view seem real and human. Was it flawed? Oh yeah. Thank godness humans aren't flawed.

"The [PC] image works well in the context of current identity politics because it mobilizes fear and defensiveness associated with this vivid but fictional future. It also positions your sympathies with the poor guy who has just discovered the PC police knocking at his door. Cultural critics hate being positioned on the other side of that door, naturally, particularly because we don’t have that kind of power to coerce (though apparently we can incite fear and defensiveness). The effectiveness of this image lies in uniting a stereotype of the shrill “politically correct” activist with the image of a coercive state. The image itself makes an argument and stakes a political position. “Racism” and “cultural imperialism” are comparable rhetorical tools from my corner of the political spectrum."

So many words. So many words and thoughts to deal with simple concepts. PC police works because it imposes a sense of fairness on a world that isn't fair, and it requires us to walk around on our tiptoes afraid of insulting anyone and everyone. It lies at the end of a spectrum. At the other end of a spectrum is Archie Bunker. If I write a film about Japan I shouldn't have them mispronounce words because that's a steretype. NO, that's PC. If I write a film about Japan I should concentrate SOLELY on them mispronouncing words: NO, that's being stereotypical.

It's that easy. Spare yourself the thesis distortion.

"certain type are characterized as essentially different and inferior to others of a certain type."

YOU think that. That's YOUR input. Because someone is tall in elevator and looks around and notices they are tall doesn't make them SUPERIOR. It' just makes them taller. Because someone has trouble with enlgish because it's not their first langauge, doesn't make them a bufoon, but it is comical when you are trying to deal with it. If a Japanese business comes to America, and his American host sends over a Barbie-Blond in a cowboy hat, should I wring my hands, or think: boy, I could see that happening in real life. YOU may cringe and find that TV host an "Uncle Todai," but he's on the air over there. And if those characters are sitting in a hotel room and see this program, it's FUNNY to them. Sorry, that's the way the world works. Spend some time in Japan, learn the culture intimately, and your movie will include a much more nuanced picture. Why is it that thousands of Japanese posts I've seen all over the net about this film didn't find themselves INFERIOR. Didn't feel that the Japanese characterizations left them that way. I wouldn't expect a film from the point of view of Japanese tourists in LA to go to the Gamble House, and be all mad and slighted when they only walked down H-Wood boulevard and noticed all the fast food places and how fat we were. If this film was about YOU it would be VASTLY different. But it wasn't through YOUR eyes. It was through a relatively unexperienced in Asia, white person's eyes. I happen to think that the japanese culture is strong enough to stand up to some broad comedy. It's a slam against the Japanese to think that a film as innocuous as this could just re-inforce a Long Duck Dong world. I really think this film was just one sympathetic japanese character away from getting it's PC points. If there had been just one person, it would have made us all feel better. But, it was true to the viewpoint of a girl who makes fun of people who don't know who E. Waugh is (because they're prettier than her) and a guy who makes money doing liquor ads and cheats on his wife. Both of them are in a land, for the first time, that feels strange to them. Boy, did it ever nail, that huh?

(I apologize for all attroicus spelling in this post, and invoke the Mark Twain defense, and the no spell-check defense, and several other defenses that I do not know about at this time).

"submerged racism" is right up there with "repressed memories." more ammunition to use when maintaining your victim status at all costs ... "Oh, I thought there was submerged racism, aren't I the good student?" "Don't I have the critical eye for unfariness at any level?" "I'm so smart actual racism bores me, I go around unearthing submerged racism. So much more intellectually enertaining." "You're guily for your submersion. Even though I can't prove your racist, I know it's submerged. I win!!!"

53- Nik

I enjoyed the film. I live in Tokyo, am a gaijin, and am bi-cultural, having spent a third of my life here, speaking Japanese at home and work, and having most of my relationships with Japanese.
Some of the previous posts seem to have the suggestion that because I am a gaijin that I cannot recognize the submerged racism of the film, and that my experience of Japan as a white westerner is meaningless. I disagree.
I thought that Ms. Copolla did a good job of showing the Japan that exists in the eyes and ears of one who does not know Japan. The film was beautifully shot, and I saw very little of the stereotyping that people spoke of in the cinematography: This is Tokyo as I see it every day, and it was neither romanticised nor cliched. Japanese co-workers of my agreed on this point. I saw the film as extremely dispassionate, not 'suggesting' anything, simply showing. I did not see the modern portrayal of Japan as ridiculous, nor the traditional temples and images as idealised: Both realities exist, side by side. Go to Atago Green Hills, look up and see a monument to one of the worlds great technology companies, Vodafone. Walk 100 metres, walk up an escalator, and you are in a shrine. That is the reality, and I truthfully find this reality as interesting as Ms. Copolla did.
The shots of the commercial shooting, with the ridiculous director, and the piss-poor interpreter, similarly, was not about Japan, but about those particular characters, and perhaps a bit of wry comment on the way *some* Japanese get when they are exposed to foreigners. Having spent my last ten years here fully bilingual, I can say that this sort of thing really does happen, and I don't think you could say that it is an unfair portrayal to have certain characters in the film behave in this way: I can confirm that there really are such behaviours in Tokyo. Just as there probably are everywhere.
I watched the film 'To Die Another Day' the night before I saw LIT. LIT's sense of place, and the accurate portrayal of it was stark in comparison to James Bond's Japan.
The scene in the hospital was real. Very real, at least to me.
I guess that this film spoke to me. Had it stereotyped, portrayed a Japan that I have never seen, or characters whose existence was implausible it would *not* have spoken to me.
I think a bigger issue than the film itself is how the studio marketed it: A comedy it is not. If American audiences perceived it as such, I don't think that they saw the same film that I did, and perhaps the members of this list would be better of rueing the fact that a film which was neither racist nor stereotyped was seen through filters which caused the viewers to see the film as reinforcing their stereotypes.
This film, I think, does justice to Tokyo, and to the characters it portrays, and it is one of my more favorite ones, right next to Diva, a film which does something quite similar for Paris.

54- Mark

I can understand both points of view about this film, and I think the reaction of the viewer can teach us a lot about how different people feel about their place in the world.

Foreigners who sluff off criticism of the movie and say "hey look at the way foreigners are represented in the Japanese media, don`t be so sensitive", generally are expressing confidence in their place in the world. Japanese who thought the film was racist are probably expressing their insecurity about their own culture. Others who fall in between the 2 are just that, between the 2.

Being a foreigner in Japan, and dealing with the negative, oversimplified images of foreigners on a daily basis, I have to say to those who don`t like the film:

The reason why you are hurt by this movie is because a lot of it IS true, and the truth hurts, especially when it is presented comedically. I understand your concerns, but the reason why Westerners find Japan so strange is the fact that there is no continuity, no connection between the past and the present in Japan, even though they both exist simultaneously.

This is a shame indeed, however even more of a shame is that very few Japanese feel they should try and get in touch with their real "roots". THAT is left up to foreigners sadly enough.

55- a passer by

Dear Ugly Tourists all above;

Have you heard the word Orientalism by any chance? Or have you heard A Small Place by Kincaid, which defines tourism as the ugliest invention of white colonialism. Study those more before you open the big but very stupid mouth. There is not such a thing like ancient Japan that satisfies you as you wished. If you don't like Japan and find it disappointing, why don't you get your ass out of the place, which you contemptuously and triphantly elaborate? You are not entitled to complain or redicule just because Japan/Asia don't exist there to please Western exotism.
The reason that I felt like defending Japanese people here is not because I am a Japanphile as you guys above who are wishing to exploit the third world politics but simply I am just educated and decent.

56- Nilla

The post above seemed articulate the point I was vaguely thinking of while I was following this issue. 'Tourists are ugly people,' I remember what Jamaica Kincaid pointed out eloquently. Japanese people have their own problems but those are to be dealt with by themselves. The least thing they need is another intervention from the world police USA. Otherwise, American people are really UZAI and causing totally unnecessay trouble all over the world.

57- ken

Wow, this must be a great movie! Look at all of the people who want to give their opinion above. If it sparks this kind of debate, you know it must be a great movie! By the way, the 2 posters above me are probably hypocrites who have visited other countries as tourists.
Ciao folks! I`m off to see this movie!

58- hirocodile

I am a Japanese who live in Paris.
Some French friends has(have...? ouf ouf, my english...) told me not to see this film because I would be unconfortable at cinema.
I saw the film this weekend, and I really enjoyed it.
It was Japan I know.
Here in France, I don't expect that the doctors speak in Japanese, neither in English...they just speak in French.
Coppora chose Japan as background but it could be any country.
I could have the same experience here, like Charlotte, if I couldn't speak in French.
I understand my french friends who saw racism in this film.
They have never been Bob, or they can't see them in Bob or in Charlotte.
Anyway we see different things in a film/book, it depends on our experiences.

59- Mimi

Joi <a href="http://joi.ito.com/archives/2004/04/19/lost_in_translation_doesnt_translate_well_in_japan.html#comments">just blogged</a>an article in the Christian Science Monitor <a href="http://www.csmonitor.com/2004/0419/p07s01-woap.html"> called 'Lost in Translation' doesn't translate well in Japan.</a> The article quotes Japanese in Japan who didn't like the representation in Japan (including people who participated in the making of the film) and points out that it opened late in Japan at one small 300-seat alternative theater.

60- Todd

I can see how people could view this as a film with bias (and you could extrapolate that to racism), but is there a film without it? While there is no media without bias from the creator, this is added to or subtracted from by the viewer.

I can only speak from my own experiences. As an American who visited Tokyo (and had a very tough time), I found LIT to be funny, and somewhat bittersweet and terrifying. I think it captured some elements of being a fish out of water, but not all of them (I didn't stay in nearly as nice a hotel, and all of the rooms seemed much more cramped and crowded to me). But this isn't so much an idictment of Japanese culture as of my own inability to deal with it (and similarly, the inability of the main characters). I too didn't sleep for 5 straight days, and was pretty much a wreck by the time I left.

So it depends on what you bring to the table. Some view the Sopranos (and Godfather movies) as racist. Others find it to be compelling entertainment, and a fascinating character study. I found LIT to serve as a vehicle to better understand my own foibles as opposed to a jab at cultural stereotypes. But, as with all media, ymmv.

61- Ku

OK, I didn’t take much philosophy in college so I’m hoping you can all sort me out.

What’s the difference between cultural jokes about, lets say, Germans and Japanese? Is there a difference? Is a drunk Bavarian in dancing in lederhosen funny but a drunk Japanese salaryman singing Karaoke racist? If so, why? If the Bavarian is in a Japanese movie, is it racist or is it still funny? If the Barvarian character is racist, then how should I view Mel Brooks movie and musical, "The Producers?" Is it racist (anti-German) and anti-Semitic at the same time? The film can easily offend Germans and Jews alike. Can it be anti-Semitic since a Jewish director made it? If it’s stereotypes of Germans is racist, is on the same level as anti-Semitism or less or more offensive? If "Lost in Translation should be banned, what do you suggest we do with "The Producers?"

Recently I heard a joke from a Ghanaian about Nigerians. If I’m white and I repeat the joke from the Ghanaian about Nigerians, do I become a racist? Is the Ghanaian racist? Is the joke an affectation of colonialism? If so is the Ghanaian absolved and the British responsible for the Nigerian joke by proxy? Should the Ghanaian be banned from the Oscars? Should the British? Should I?

Poor Said must be rolling over in his grave. I don’t think he ever foresaw this level of quibbling when he conceived of Orientalism. Labeling everything you don’t like as racist distorts the charge so much that it that it’s meaningless. Everyday Asian migrants are exploited in sweatshops, teenaged women are sold into sex slavery and last year a US Congressman even defended Japanese American internment and proposed the same for Arab Americans. Yes, there’s still a lot of racism and injustices in the world. "Lost in Translation" isn’t one of them.

62- chako

I cannot see this film as racism. You can say it's a bit exagrated when you see the short man with a ugly black big glass. You don't see this kinda guy often in Japan anymore.

Anyway, "lost in translation" doesn't necesary link to language gap, it's there own identity. They're in a middle of identity crisis. and the film was beautifully show this double lost in translation (in language and thier own identity) though the mid-age guy and new wed young woman. The problem is in them, not Japanese culture. it's just the methodology that the producer used to give us easire image.

I also don't think only Kyoto beautiful zen garden represents Japanese real culture. What is real? I don't think, phenomenology, there is no real thing... Hyatte, Roppongi hills, they are all Japanese culture now. You can see how people want to be "like" American or Europians in Japan... Well, I maybe generalize too much on this comment, but still Japanese culture is in transformation. We all can see how Osaka has been changed in 10 years, (it's more like Tokyo now in terms of the tidiness of buidling line-up on the roads).

So, when we say Japanese culture, we need to define, if this is a traditional Japanese culture or pop? and also, when we talk about Japanese pop culture, lost in translation is beautifully and artistically done.

63- erik

i think that the movie had some racist elements, but one thing i learned as a foreigner in japan, is that we aren't the same. we have cultural differences and physical differences, and that inevitably leads to tension. what i'm saying is that it is impossible to make an honest depiction of another culture without their being some racist elements. why? because human beings are weak and competitive, especially towards things that are different than themselves. i think the most important thing is not that there were some racist elements in it, but rather what the intentions of the director were. was the director being vindictive? i don't think so. she merely pointed out some of the weaknesses of modern japan. all countries have their weaknesses, for example, America. Our strength weakens our perception. we think that we are benevolent, but we are actually quite belligerant and impossible to get along with, especially on the international scene. what does this mean? does that mean that we as amercans are bad people? no. we are human, and as a nation we have some major imperfections. Japan is no exception. i think that japanese people ARE very confused with their identity. it's understandable. look at their history. you have to applaud their drive to survive, they are survivors, good survivors at that. but they have made MAJOR sacrifices for their survival in the western economic sphere. i believe this is a fact. and i also believe that there is nothing wrong with stating facts. i think that this movie merely stated many facts. again, i'm not saying that there weren't any racist elements in it, but in order for us to make any honest depiction about how we feel toward another race, that is unavoidable, i believe. i mean, just look at that movie pearl harbor. i felt there was practically zero racism in that, but at the same time, that movie wasn't saying anything. it was just a dumb hollywood love story.

i lived in japan for a over two years and i am fluent in the language. so i'm not just pulling stuff out of my rear. as wonderful as the japanese are in some ways, they have some growing to do if they want to have meaningful communication with other cultures. again, i'm not knocking them, i'm just think that these are facts. if you don't think that japanese need to understand us or us them, then i think that you could argue with me, but otherwise, i think that you would probably be hard pressed.

64- Bill S.

Just wanted to say that (for the most part) this has been a great discussion about the film. I just saw Lost in Translation for the first time on DVD (in California). I was looking for just this sort of discussion because of my curiosity about how the film played out in Japan.

To those who are railing against the "stereotypical" portrayal of Japan/Tokyo and the Japanese characters, I can only say, lighten up. I could see the argument that an author/filmaker might have a responsibility to produce a fully fleshed portrayal of a particular culture if a film were to be made in a small, culturally obscure locale (whatever the country). I could see the local populace of the (probably fictional) town of Grady being up-in-arms over the town's portrayal in Doc Hollywood. You understand that this would have been the one and only window onto that culture that most of us would have had.

Clearly this is not the case with Tokyo, Japan or Japanese people. It is a culture and locale that has had a multivalent portrayal here in America, and I venture to say, around the world. Must every film set in Japan present "the whole picture"? Clearly, I think not.

I am an architect and work with a steady rotation of European student interns in my office. I find the accusations that Americans, from behind their shield of cultural imperialism, are incapable of understanding the negative effects of cultural stereotyping and caricaturization. I can't think of a modern culture that is more (negatively) stereotyped than American culture. In some ways, the entertainment industry offers an apt analogy--can't you just picture the scene of the adulatory fan gushing upon meeting his or her favorite moviestar, "I feel like I know everything about you!" Why? Because the fan has seen a few of the actor's movies? Well, I get the same feeling (without the adulation--quite the contrary) from the visiting Euro students. Somehow, because they have seen a bunch of Tom Cruise and Bruce Willis movies and met a few American tourists they somehow "know how we Americans are."

I also wanted to point out some of my observations about the film that provide counterpoint to the stereotyping claim. During the scene in the hospital waiting room, I found myself watching with one eye the two women in the background as the other eye was observing the hilarious interaction between the elderly Japanese patient and Bob Ferris. I recall thinking about how their reaction (the increasingly uncontrolled laughter at the absurdly amusing interplay) ran counter to all the stereotypes I have developed about the typical Japanese person. I somehow would have expected them to studiously ignore the interaction the way they might studiously ignore the homeless person drinking a cup of coffee in McDonald's or energetically pretending the salary-man wasn't just nearly killed by the sliding doors on the subway train.

Contrary to this would be the TV Host, Matthew (I believe his name?). Could there be a more grotesque caricaturization of the "typical" Westerner/American? The blonde hair, the ridiculous loud voice, the outlandish pinwheeling of his limbs? The guy's name is Matthew, for God's sake! It seems fairly clear to me who is being mocked. Am I upset about it? Not really. I certainly haven't heard many comments about this portrayal (I say portrayal, but have learned that this is a real TV celebrity?!). This isn't a "two wrongs make a right" argument . . . it is simply an observation that these kinds of characterizations are to be expected when there is a clash of cultures. If they truly rise to the level of racism as in the case of the Japanese being portrayed as monkeys in WWII political cartoons, clearly it is not a good thing. This movie was so far short of this kind of thing that I am simply amazed at some of the reactions.

Finally, I think this criticism does the film (and its author)a disservice. To me, the repeated shots of the city from the hotel room (amongst many other clues) clearly indicate that there is this amazing, rich, multivalent experience out there that neither character can figure out a way to access. Why not? Well, that is the whole point of the film . . .

65- will

Well, I know I can't unravel America and Asia as well as Asian-America in one blog, but some attempt seems in order...

I want to make some points about "lost in Translation" and a broader comment about the whole Asian & American cultural clash in California.

I'm a 26 year old white male. I was in the Army before getting out and going to study in LA. I fulfilled my language requirement in Japanese almost solely because it fit my schedule, being at 8am. At that time, I knew practically nothing about Japan. I continued to study it because I thought that only taking one or two classes was next to useless and would get forgotten. I slowly became aware of what I thought was reverse racism among alot of Asians. There were scowls from a few people in classes, and one girl made comments about exotification, etc. that were indirectly directed. I thought, "some people spend so much time thinking about racism that they begin to see it in places where it does not exist".

Like all of the sudden, every white guy who was in the military is a drunk brothel patron and should be treated with caution and suspicion, or outright contempt. I've seen this attitude, overheard it, been told by others, etc. and some of it is indeed reverse racism. However, many of the stereotypes stem from very real phenomena that I do recognize. It's a hard thing for whites to see, because nobody wants to acknowledge it. Some are decidedly blind to it.

Or at the least, he is only taking enough of these classes to be able to go pick up girls at a club. It is a very insulting stigma and it does exist. But then I came to see how there is some truth in it. I came to see that there are notions that get cast upon majority and minority groups. Nobody likes this.

Alot of my time over the past few years was spent with Japanese friends of many ages and both genders, studying the literature both old and new, and trying to understand another culture for all its goods and bads.

Alot of "white" people who attempt to be put their best foot forward by learning about other cultures (as universities promote vigorously now) feel that they are doing the right thing, and that they are not making the mistakes of the past (like their grandparents generation who treated Asians and every other race with sheer contempt. But certainly there are overzealous fans of asian culture (anime freaks, etc.) asiaphiles (those who have matched up asian women to the chic, slim, exotic euro-model ideal or its static outline but minus the blond hair in many cases), and people who seek refuge in another culture because it makes them feel safe or special in some way.

Shows like survivor turn "primitive" culture into a fad or a costume. My feeling is that some people like to escape into this kind of world by entertaining themselves with a culture (going to Thailand by watching "the Beach" or going to Japan or some world like it by watching 'anime'). This is Asia as a commodity. This I can see and understand. Many of these people are fleeing the molds of our society because another culture seems accessible. Japanese youths kind of do the same thing- they want to learn another language, float freely into another cultural realm, expand their horizons, and be good people free of hate. I think the crucial problem is when they float into this other culture to rape it of its entertaining or gratifying juice and spit out the pulp. A parallel can be drawn ( if a bit extreme): It's not unlike whites shooting all the Buffaloes for fun and leaving them to rot on the plains until they were nearly extinct, while the Indians starved.

I've read alot of insightful blogs and papers on this issue, and it has informed me alot. But I occasionally come across some fiery diatribes that suggest that there is some evil trend of usurpation going on and that all people who are interested in Japanese culture are cretins and orientalists who "exoticize", "commodify", etc. (not that this doesn't happen alot).
It seems to me that this stuff should be pointed out, but that people sometimes go to far, especially when they treat people they don't know badly using preconcieved ideas- that is racism under any stripe. There are alot of white people who really do admire the deeper traditions and values of foreign countries that we in America lost in our rush to be rich and powerful. That, and a curiousity about the fiber of modern American society, which is composed of much more than European stock. There is also the sense that we had better understand these cultures, because by the time our children are in college, many cities in America will be as largely populated by Asian-Americans or Asian immigrants as San Francisco or Vancouver. I'm not here posting as an apologist for "white" liberal Americans who turn Asia into fast food entertainment at a rate much faster than Shibuya does the West. But should be guided and corrected when they say or do something messed up, because 9/10 of the time they probably aren't aware of what they convey. But they shouldn't be discouraged or cut down, and certainly not automatically stereotyped as anime freaks, whoremasters, and obsessives. These people don't deserve the same contempt that your average aloof conservative does for the way they regard Asians and most other races, even if they do need a good slap on the forehead and a dose of reality. Maybe in instead of watching "the beach", they can watch "trading women" or maybe they can read Mishima Yukio or Oe Kenzaburo instead of watching "lost in translation". And then maybe they will know enough to go to Kyoto or Ayuthaya instead of Roppongi or Pattaya on their next vacation. Asians can play a part in solving what I agree is a problem among the misguided.

The WM/AF phenomenon enters in here, and it's a bit more complex. Basically in a nutshell I think that if people are dating and the number of people they date roughly corresoonds to the surrounding population (which on campus here is maybe 2asian:1 white, that could be considered normal. Basically someone who "only" dates so-and-so might have questionable fetishes or whatever.
It's a contentious issue that doesn't go away easier. I wonder if the WF/AM trend that is emerging would displace the controversy? Comingling is an inevitable result of globalization and our own country's demographic reality, but there are very valid arguments about the images in media, etc. that I recognize. I hadn't given it nearly enough thought until some Asian guys asked me to think about it while we were talking about movies.

Anyway, I'll leave that there so I can get to Sofia Coppola's movie.

Things that crossed my mind while watching the movie were varied. I started by absorbing the typecast of Bill Murray from "Groundhog Day". I remember watching that movie in the Midwest and people being offended at the way Murray's city slicker character made fun of midwestern, small town culture and people. I realized that this was the same slightly snobby joke played out on the world stage. I thought: "This is kind of naive about Japanese culture". A few minutes later, I thought "Japan is just a backdrop to this film about two Americans". I then realized that the mild romance that never stoops to a sex scence (for which Coppola was credited with such grace) is simply a rehash of the Japanese movie "Shall we Dance", where the same relationship formed between a dance instructor and a salaryman. Then there came moments where the jokes rested almost completely on the weirdness of the Japanese, and I found myself feeling slightly embarrassed for my country's cinema. However, a few parts were just plain funny. My Japanese friends would have thought it was funny too, I expect. But overall, I kept thinking that unfortunately, this woman rode down the red carpet on her father's coat tails.

The big problem I see is that had the movie been all about Japan and explored its culture more deeply, it would not have been successful in the US. People I know who have taken any amount of time to learn about Japan basically felt similarly about the movie and uncomfortable about its underlying messages. Your average American apparently thinks the movie is really funny and those zany Japanese were such a nice touch.

My points here are to concur that there are some kind of naive ideas floating around in "Lost in Translation" which not all 'white' people endorse, in fact, many I talk to think it's "messed up", etc. Of course, many of them rarely get close enough to other races to have the kinds of conversations that raise these issues (and I mean outside of the SF Bay Area). They chortle and laugh AT (not with) William Hung, who, I think, knows fully well that it is all a joke and will be laughing all the way to the bank once the sensation from "American Idol" passes. So, (Asian) America, reach out to those who are trying to understand Japan and give them the same guidance that you would give your Asian friends if they were wrong about something. It's tempting to hate people, but it won't solve anything. Don't let white ignorance beget the same in Asians.
Recognize who your friends are and help inform them. It's probably mostly because of my Asian friends at school that I learned alot of these lessons about race and stereotypes, some of these ideas and attitudes I didn't see until they pointed them out both in me and others. Peace.

Ok, so maybe its just me, but what I found most unique about the movie, was that the relationship between the two main characters (who weren't enjoying their stay in Japan) ended up having a very "Japanese" romance. When I say "Japanese romance" I am referring to the classic theme in Japanese film/literature of the "mutually unrequited love" or "love that could not be".

67- Trevor

My two cents in this drawnout debate go something like this: I have been very interested in Japanese culture since my youth, due to a sensei who originated from Japan. From that point, flash forward twenty years. I have just watched LIT for an ninth time, I have the DVD and I have found this site claiming stereotypes and racist claims. I am shocked. I, at no time, considered the movie to be racist or stereotypical, on the other hand, it makes me want to visit even more. The movie is about the American characters, Japan is a backdrop to add to their confusion and isolation. Sophia needed this environment to force the characters into finding each other.

I still greatly respect the Japanese culture and have had very meaningful relationships with the Japanese people I met in school who I still consider close friends after many years.

What I think needs to be done is to stop the knee jerk reactions of people actively searching for racism. You can find racism everywhere, and being Canadian I deal with it on American television almost every day, we are the butt of their jokes on a regular basis. Do I rant and rave and make web sites? No, I laugh because anyone who wants to live in such ignorance are people I wouldn't want visiting my country anyway.

So what I suggest we all do is find more important things to do with our limited time on this planet. Go out and enjoy the many cultures that surround us and stop complaining about a movie that will pass into obscurity soon enough. There's a whole world to get "lost" in so get out there and do it.

68- Chang Kabuki

Hey, I'm half asian/half caucasian American (by the way, it's a little offensive when some of the posts speak in terms of Japanese being shorter than AMERICANS, when what they probably mean is WHITE PEOPLE, but I'll try and stop being so sensitive.) I think I understand the movie, I even liked it a little, although it didn't contain much that I couldn't have done myself if I had a camera. I don't however think some of the jokes were at all necessary to the "two foreigners connecting with each other in a foreign land" theme. If anyone can explain the following things to me, I'll shut my mouth:

1. Yes, there's a lot of truth in the Japanese (Asians) shorter than whites stereotype, but do you really think that out of a random gathering of 6-7 Japanese MEN in an elevator, not one of them would even reach Bill Murray's collarbone?
2. If there is truth to the height thing, and given that other stereotype of how smart the Japanese are, in a hotel that I assume sees a lot of foreign guests are we to believe Japanese architects would set the maximum height of a showerhead to the height of, again, Bill Murray's collarbone, which has to be, what, 4'11" to 5'1"? Japanese people aren't midgets (I apologize for any offense made to little people). And is there some sort of cost savings associated with keeping the maximum shower head height so low?
3. I took a year of Japanese language in college, and learned a lot of crazy words like sayoRa, kaRate, domo aRigato; so I was a little confused when the Japanese prostitute kept pronouncing "rip" as "lip," a language problem which became a running gag. Maybe the R's that I mentioned in those words above aren't the ideal R's that westerners like, but they sound a heck of a lot more like R's than L's. I don't want to sound arrogant if I'm making a mistake, but it seems like Coppola didn't do much research in the language department.
4. Again, I kind of liked the movie (a little slow for my taste), and I get the theme. So it doesn't bother me that Bill Murray makes jokes about the Japanese culture, that's his character, and I don't mind that there are no fleshed out Japanese characters, the alien-ness of the setting has to be emphasized. But what's the point of the above 3 running gags as I call them? They don't help the movie at all, Coppola put them in because she has no talent for comedy, and realized that her audience would be young white people, who aren't racist, but won't have much of a problem laughing at easy racial stereotypes. (By the way, I can't wait until she shoots the sequel where Bill and Scarlet are reunited on a trip to Africa, I bet American audiences will be really accepting of that movie) She should have left these scenes out and let Bill handle the comedy portion.

69- Bob Harris

I wanted to respond to a whole slew of you, but the one item I had to respond to was this:

Quote from Mimi:

"I think the film has provoked divergent responses because the racism in the film is not explicit and intentional but implicit and submerged."

Implicit and submerged? I think the few items not addressed are:

1) Your basic feelings toward americans pre-LIT.
2) How you feel about yourself in general. Aka national pride.
3) The kind of images you'd see in a Rorschach Test. "Ink blots"

If those items found in the movie exist, i.e. Karaoke or Arcades or sushi bars or quirky campaign vans/processions,
If a visiting person would never experience those 'in japan' why not have it in the movie? If they were only stuff you'd find outside of japan and was uniqely an asian-amaricans persons pastime, then you'd have a good argument of stereo-typing.

Personally, I love Japan. I love the culture, pop, or traditional. As an american, post WWII, I could easily hate you on principle and stereo-type you. But I'm more evolved than that and Japan today is vastly different now than then.

I love the movie, it does not speak poorly of japan. Clearly niether of the main characters had been to Japan in the past. I loved the scene in the sushi bar where Bob wanted to sell Charolett's "Black toe" to the shop. It's funny to americans because some of the stuff that is traditional/normal is so alien to us. Dried minnows? Squid tenticals. And some of the homeopathic remedies you sell/buy are out of this world to Americans. Strangers in a strange land. Someone said the movie was not about Japan, but about the two characters. I feel this is true.

If I was to make a trip to Japan, based on Mimi's vision of Americans, I wouldn't go. However, I know that Japan doesn't judge americas like that as a whole. There are asses in America, there are asses in Japan.

If the racism is so implicit and submerged... maybe you're trying too hard to make something out of nothing.


P.S. This thread seems beat to death, but I couldn't ignore the crap being spewed around concerning "Young american elite" come on... Bob was ancient, and there is nothing elite about charolet.

70- AFriend

The real problem with the film is how am I supposed to relate to or sympathize with a girl who has a free vacation in a new and interesting country and with money and time to spend, yet feels so sad about it all? Yeah, OK, tough noogies about her philandering young husband, but aside from that, go out and live it up!

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日, 2 8, 2004, @ 19:50
Lost in Translations
› from sindikk.aeshin

It is always interesting to see how different viewers encounter their reflections in a work of art. Lost in Translation is, perhaps, "a set-back in our struggle for recognition of a culturally diverse Japan" or an exercise in "anti-Japanese ra... More »

日, 2 15, 2004, @ 9:57
Lost in Translation - racist?
› from TriNetre - The Third Eye

Film reviewers have hailed Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation as though it were the cinematic equivalent of the second coming. One paper even called it a masterpiece. Reading the More »

日, 2 15, 2004, @ 10:56
アンチ "Lost in Translation" キャンペーン
› from 会長日記 女子大生編

がアカデミーに投票する際に、ソフィア・コッポラ監督の"Lost in Translation"以外の映画に投票するよう求めるキャンペーンを実施している。 なぜこんなキャンペーンをやっているかとい�... More »

日, 2 15, 2004, @ 12:30
still lost...

There has been a lot of activity regading Lost in Translation ever since it was nominated for a few Academy Awards. Funny that no one was offended before it gained some acclaim. I get pretty annoyed when I hear how supposedly "racist" porteyals in movi... More »

火, 2 17, 2004, @ 13:33

http://www.chanpon.org/archives/2004/02/07/totally_lost_in_translation.html More »

月, 2 23, 2004, @ 6:21
Lost in PCness
› from DrDave's Blog

Lost in Translation? a racist movie? I think not. PCness bigotry and real-fake stereotypes... More »

月, 2 23, 2004, @ 6:41
Lost in PCness
› from DrDave's Blog

Lost in Translation? a racist movie? I think not. PCness bigotry and real-fake stereotypes... More »

木, 2 26, 2004, @ 1:12
Lost in Translation, Redux
› from Adrift in Japan

The Oscars are coming up, and although Scarlet Johannsen wasn't nominated for an Oscar, there's still plenty of buzz about Lost in Translation, which I talked about a couple of months ago after seeing it back in the States. The More »

木, 3 4, 2004, @ 14:57
It's Funny, Really
› from nipponDAZE

Whether I'm washing the monkeys after dinner or taking an eggplant vacation, my Japanese is laughable. More »

金, 3 19, 2004, @ 4:59
Lost in PCness
› from DrDave's Blog

Lost in Translation? a racist movie? I think not. PCness bigotry and real-fake stereotypes... More »

金, 3 19, 2004, @ 14:00
It's Funny, Really
› from nipponDAZE

Whether I'm washing the monkeys after dinner or taking an eggplant vacation, my Japanese is laughable. More »

金, 3 19, 2004, @ 14:07
It's Funny, Really
› from nipponDAZE

Whether I'm washing the monkeys after dinner or taking an eggplant vacation, my Japanese is laughable. More »

火, 4 20, 2004, @ 8:14

Ever since i came back from Japan, the first question out of everyone's mouth is: "Is it like Lost in Translation!?!?" I always respond "Well...." It's hard to parse what i'm being asked. Perhaps i'm being asked if i was just as lost and overwhelmed in... More »

火, 4 20, 2004, @ 8:35

Ever since i came back from Japan, the first question out of everyone's mouth is: "Is it like Lost in Translation!?!?" I always respond "Well...." It's hard to parse what i'm being asked. Perhaps i'm being asked if i was just as lost and overwhelmed in... More »

火, 4 20, 2004, @ 8:44

Ever since i came back from Japan, the first question out of everyone's mouth is: "Is it like Lost in Translation!?!?" I always respond "Well...." It's hard to parse what i'm being asked. Perhaps i'm being asked if i was just as lost and overwhelmed in... More »

水, 4 21, 2004, @ 10:56

Ever since i came back from Japan, the first question out of everyone's mouth is: "Is it like Lost in Translation!?!?" I always respond "Well...." It's hard to parse what i'm being asked. Perhaps i'm being asked if i was just as lost and overwhelmed in... More »

月, 5 3, 2004, @ 9:28

Ever since i came back from Japan, the first question out of everyone's mouth is: "Is it like Lost in Translation!?!?" I always respond "Well...." It's hard to parse what i'm being asked. Perhaps i'm being asked if i was just as lost and overwhelmed in... More »

月, 5 3, 2004, @ 16:04

Ever since i came back from Japan, the first question out of everyone's mouth is: "Is it like Lost in Translation!?!?" I always respond "Well...." It's hard to parse what i'm being asked. Perhaps i'm being asked if i was just as lost and overwhelmed in... More »

月, 5 3, 2004, @ 16:12

Ever since i came back from Japan, the first question out of everyone's mouth is: "Is it like Lost in Translation!?!?" I always respond "Well...." It's hard to parse what i'm being asked. Perhaps i'm being asked if i was just as lost and overwhelmed in... More »