“The more you know who you are and what you want, the less you let things upset you.” – Bob Harris.
Japan has always been a country that has always been fascinating to western observers, whether it be in Edo period (1603-1868) or modern day Japan, the country has been used as the setting for numerous films by both domestic and foreign directors. This is not my first time watching Lost in Translation, but my second time. However, that is not to say that there was much I remembered watching the film a second time around. Certainly the second time around, I had a better understanding of the film’s significance on a micro and macro level. This is largely due the fact that I studied Japanese politics and popular culture during my first year at University, but crucially and more importantly, I had a better understanding of the film because of the fact that the experiences that both the protagonist and deuteragonist experience are an absolutely fundamental part of the human condition.
Coppola is an instantly recognisable surname in cinema. However, whilst the most obvious example of this is Francis Ford Coppola, the director of cinematic classics The Godfather and Apocalypse Now, his daughter, Sofia Coppola’s second directed film Lost in Translation comes close in recognising the Coppola family’s impact on cinema. Set entirely in Japan, the film finds Bob Harris (Bill Murray), an aging actor in Tokyo to film a whiskey advertisement for Suntory Holdings Limited (A prominent Japanese brewery and distilling company group). Lost, lonely and stuck in a mid-life crisis in a foreign country, Bob finds himself in the hotel bar after a photo shoot for the Whiskey’s poster advertisement where he encounters the beautiful Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson). Charlotte is unsure of her relationship with John (Giovanni Ribisi), her photographer husband who seems to be obsessed with his work as a photographer and especially with one of his models, Kelly (Anna Faris) who is an actress there to promote the film she is in “Midnight Velocity”. Both of these two main characters are on equal footing since they are isolated and in similar positions in life in a foreign country. The chance encounter of Bob and Charlotte who are literally and emotionally lost in translation acts as the pivotal crux of the film itself.
Fundamentally, there are two scenes in Lost in Translation that encapsulate the points I made in the introduction and those are the Karaoke scene and the scene where both Bob and Charlotte lie on the hotel bed and share their innermost thoughts. Firstly, the Karaoke scene shows a clear division of societal experiences between the western culture and eastern culture. Indeed, Charlotte’s friends in Japan are presented as an anomaly – connected fun-loving, thrill seekers as opposed to the serious businessmen/women who follow Bob who he is disconnected from. This dichotomy highlight the division between two groups and their arguably different mindsets in modern Japan one that externally is traditional and economical as well as internally liberal and thrill-seeking. Karaoke is a distinct staple of Japan that has made its way over to the West and its inclusion in Lost in Translation binds together the links between the Occident and the Orient. The film also features songs performed by Western bands including The Sex Pistols and Roxy Music which adds to the overall magnificent soundtrack of the film. It is when Charlotte puts on a pink wig and sings The Pretenders hit song “Brass in my Pocket” that we see Charlotte at her most closely connected to Japan. Along with Bob at this stage of the film, but we also see that Bob as he gives his ‘attention’ to Charlotte as the lyrics of the song denote that she is ‘special’ and thus Bob shows a vulnerability that draws us further into his charm. This vulnerability he presents shows him becoming less alienated and more developed as a character overall.
Secondly, the bedroom scene becomes where Bob and Charlotte share their inner-most thoughts to each other. The ‘will-they-won’t-they’ tension is cast aside and the real drama unfolds in the subject matters that both Bob and Charlotte discuss. Their understanding of each other’s life experiences such as Charlotte’s youth, Bob’s marriage, general doubts and their troubled relationships means that at this point in the film they can both communicate their own feelings to each other which presents them as two people in a relationship who are honest and valuing in their own lives. It highlights the level headedness of the film and by not falling into the typical trope of a romantic comedy as neither of them have sex. The film shows the relief that people have whenever they find someone to connect with and talk to about their problems, the mutual understanding of Bob and Charlotte at this point in the film shows that they are finally no longer lost in translation.
In conclusion, Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation is a film that fundamentally represents the human experience through two individuals who become relatable as characters. Our interest in their journey both literally and emotionally allows us to constantly cheer them on as active participants in the film itself. I would definitely encourage people to watch Lost in Translation not only because the film arguably shows both Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson’s most competent and human performances in film, but also because it is an intensely relatable film for anybody who has spent a long time in another country as well as some of the feelings that come with that experience.
Written by Jamie Jobanputra