Lost in Translation

Directed by Sofia Coppola

2003

Lost in Translation is an English language romantic comedy-drama set in Tokyo. The writing and acting are good, but the pacing is uneven and the portrayal of Tokyo is flat.

Would see.

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4 thoughts on “Lost in Translation

  1. Not sure if you saw Moonlight, but I would compare this film to it. I too am not a fan of romance films, but the thing I loved about these two films is that they both mastered the depiction of nuance.

    You can see the interactions slowly progress more and more between the characters, you find beauty in the most banal moments, and you finish the film having seen a very chilling, intimate, real sense of life in its aimless journeys.

    I also love this film because some of its coolest moments are its transitional ones that unfold between the more important scenes. If you rewatch the night where they go out together and party with those random friends, I think you’ll really like the artistic ambiance, beautiful combination of sound mixing and a great soundtrack, and lots of really cool shots (another cool one is Scarlett when she’s sitting in her window in her room in the morning and you see the camera pan around the windows in the background—giving you a really artistic, captivating sense of the city.

    The thing I really love is that the portrayal of Tokyo does come off as flat—and the pacing does seem uneven—but I think it was intentionally done in a really beautiful, artistic way. It’s cool because the beauties of the film lie not in the major plot points, but in the ambience, the transitions (like I said earlier), and subtle tension between the two characters. I think these things are a perfect match for the film because the really mastery behind the film—while its romantic and comedic elements are great—is a much more transcendental, philosophical metanarrative, one that ties in with the whole concept of being “Lost in Translation.”

    Bill and Scarlett are both lost in their marriage and it’s good because they help each other about it; obviously, they are both stuck in a culture and its language in which they are definitely isolated; and they are also sort of “lost in translation” with all of the humans around them, including all of the English speakers in the hotel. Of course, the final is very evident in the sense that the only reason they even begin to develop any friendship is because they aren’t bothered by each other like they are with everybody else (everybody is annoying to Bill, obviously, and it seems like nobody cares about ScarJo, except for her weirdo husband and that annoying girl he’s friends with). It kind of gives this sense of spontaneous occurrence that randomly developed between two humans going through existential crises, and it’s interesting because they know things aren’t going to work out in the end, but they don’t really complain about it and, instead, make the most of their time—departing not with an awful sense of “I’ll never see you again,” but that they impacted each other’s lives and that their memories of each other will live on forever.

    When I think about why this is my favorite film of all time, I think not about the romance or the jokes (which are good indeed, regardless), but these things:

    -It was an incredible feat as an artistic, genre-bending indie film from way back in 2003; it’s weird how this was directed by a young Sofia Coppola, daughter of Francis Ford Coppola (of course, in her 20’s, and that she had the audacity to do that very first tone-setting scene of young ScarJo in the see-through underwear and take such a unique approach). The soundtrack was incredible, as well as the sound effects and use of sound at whole throughout the movie (especially when they ran through the arcade rooms and all)—as the sounds at whole provided a sense of overwhelming sense of stimulation (and who’s going to complain about listening to Phoenix or My Bloody Valentine, anyway?), which very much ties in with this idea that they are immersed in this crazy new world and all.

    -The cinematography. It also kind of ties in with that whole sense of overwhelming stimulation and all. Maybe Tokyo wasn’t adequately explored or whatever, but all of the shots of the city from Scarlett’s hotel room, the shots from the street level, etc. were so stunning. Perfect for the theme.

    -The acting. Scarlett Johansson was only 17 at the time it was filmed, Bill Murray put in one of the best acting performances of the century, and even all of the random Japanese extras did fantastic jobs at portraying their often histrionic roles (as Japanese media culture is often like that, as we’ve seen in a lot of their anime/manga too).

    -The romance. It’s cool because a lot of people have this “it’s meant to be” mindset, but life is not like that (as exemplified by La La Land, too), and this movie acknowledges that. Moreover, this movie does not sulk about that, but instead finds a way to harmonize the hardships and end 0n this idea that these so-called star-crossed lovers would not hold their memories of each other in vain, but as beautiful reminds that life is so crazy and diverse and huge and overwhelming and tough and sometimes cold & unfair, but also that there is a little bit of brilliance beneath the surface of everything.

    -The philosophy. This is the most important one, and the reason why I love this film so much; I literally think about it all of the time. It sort of adopts certain ideas from nihilism and existentialism, then modernizes these concepts by implementing and manifesting them within the modern world, but draws out the good in them by conveying that—yes, our lives have perhaps no existential insignificance, there probably are not absolute truths (Immanuel Kant’s argument that our experiences construct our realities is good), and virtually everything we perceive is socially constructed—and uniquely showing how to capitalize on that, to “seize the day,” to see the silver linings, to be humbled but also fascinated by our world and its billions of humans.

    My apologies for the super super super long comment. It’s just that, like I said Lost in Translation, is probably my favorite film of all time (and you’d see by my blog that I’ve certainly already watched a lifetime of films in my brief and petty 20 years alive), and I wanted to document why I love it so much somewhere. I think about it all of the time—and its themes and rudiments are often very applicable and consoling when you’re facing loneliness, unrequited love, heartbreak, tragedy, overwhelming, stress, grief, suicidal thoughts, death, etc.

    The main issue is that people do not “appreciate” this film as much as critics do is that they watch it thinking it’s going to be a feel good comedy-romance, but in reality those things are very much subplots—similarly to what you see in Moonlight, Her, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, etc. It’s like when people listen to In Rainbows or OK Computer by Radiohead with the expectation that it will be grunge-like in the fashion of their previous Nirvana-inspired hit song “Creep” (which is certainly on the low end in terms of their best songs). Due to this, I often make my friends watch Lost in Translation while alone or only a couple of friends at night with really high volume; that way, they’ll be most introspective, emotionally vulnerable, undistracted, etc.—as this is a very intellectually demanding film, anyway.

    Hope this, as a unique and subjective perspective, was insightful or interesting in some ways! Have a great day, and let me know if you watch it again and have new thoughts!

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    1. I saw Moonlight. It’s a great film.

      I thought the portrayal of Tokyo in Lost in Translation was superficial. The characters only seem to be interested in surface, and the film doesn’t seem to have a perspective that is substantially different from theirs. The metaphor of Bob Harris and Charlotte understanding each other but not being understood by those around them because they are English speakers visiting a non-English speaking country and because they are able to meaningfully connect with each other in a way that they can’t with their respective families is fine, but it’s a little blunt. And it could just as easily be set in Paris except that France isn’t sufficiently foreign for Americans. I don’t really think the point of film is to make the foreign seem foreign. The whole thing feels careless.

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      1. Yeah I don’t think the film has anything to do with countries, foreign people, cultural isolation, or any other socially constructed feature of humanity.

        It all seems to be much more transcendental in nature.

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