She keeps telling me that she wants to know where things are headed.. and I don't know what that means. There are many times I long for those twinset headphones they use at the UN, the ones that allow all the different nations to talk to each other, all the different languages riding over each other, like a car radio stuck on seek mode.

I want to know where things are headed, all those kinds of things, but I honestly don't even know what she means by these words:
There is no relevant definitions of terms in the introduction section. I keep looking at her, trying to find signs. I wonder how far apart we really are, but how do I even ask that kind of question:

"Excuse me, do you have any idea what I am talking about, since I am lost with you? Your english is not mine and your intentions are hidden to me. I have no clue how you really feel.

How do people in your world show sincerity?

Are there spoilers here? Nothing major. You better see this movie anyway dammit!!

Lost in Translation – 2003
Written and Directed by Sofia Coppola

For the past two falls in a row we have been blessed with two wonderful films that celebrate love and the bond that can be formed between two people. Last year we had Punch-Drunk Love and now there is Lost in Translation.

Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a washed-up movie actor who has been reduced to doing commercials in order to pay the bills. He’s currently spending a week in Tokyo filming ads for expensive Japanese whiskey. Also staying in the same hotel is Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a recent college graduate who is visiting Japan with her rock 'n roll photographer husband. Charlotte’s husband leaves her behind in the hotel to fend for herself while he has to leave town to finish a job he is working on. Bob and Charlotte eventually meet in the hotel bar where they connect and form an unlikely relationship based on their mutual loneliness and alienation within the strange city of Tokyo. They spend the rest of the week together sharing themselves in the dark humming hours of the night and trying to find someway to reconnect their lives with the rest of the world.

The performances of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in this movie are some of the most touching and spectacular things I have seen in years. Their characters are drawn in light deft touches that allow us to fill in much of the space for ourselves. We learn more about these people through their expressions, stolen glances, and half-uttered sentences than we ever could from sweeping pronouncements or rambling soliloquies. The entire film feels like an exercise in how to achieve maximum impact though a minimal amount dialogue. Even the one time that Bob and Charlotte get into a fight lasts probably no more than three sentences, yet the words contained therein are devastating.

Bill Murray makes Bob Harris into a man who could be hilarious (and probably was at one time), but has decided that it’s just not worth the effort anymore. He will still be a faded star shilling in liquor ads while a wife who no longer cares for him is half a world away. But the entrance of Charlotte gives him a reason to play and once again derive some joy from life. Murray takes control of the scenes where they are at the sushi bar or wheeling around the hospital, once again showing us his genius for ad-libbing. Scarlett Johansson does an excellent job giving us a very educated young woman who is still utterly lost in how how she wants to live her life. In most of their scenes together, the two of them are able to share the screen as equal partners.

I loved that the bond formed between the two of them is something that reaches above sex. They search for understanding and share their true feelings instead of just sharing a bed. Young Charlotte is unsure of what to do about her marriage and heavily flirts with Bob, eventually culminating at a party where she sings a karaoke version of “Brass in Pocket” to him.

Cause I’m gonna make you see
There’s nobody else here
No one like me.
I'm special, so special.
I got to have some of your attention
give it to me

But Bob doesn’t give in to her temptations and counters with Roxy Music’s "More Than This." They continue on with their conversations and adventures and Bob tells her about marriage and children. It seems like Bob’s kids are the only things that make him stick with his wife and the jobs that are left for him. "They are miracles," he tells Charlotte one night, “And you will discover that children are the most interesting people you will ever meet.”

I don’t want to give the impression that this movie is just some artsy fartsy mope-fest, it is also damn funny. The film find its humor in the absurdities of life like terrible lounge singers, the ring tone on Bob’s cell phone, or a seasoned call girl who has done the whole "power-fantasy" bit a few too many times. The entire city is Bill Murray’s playground as he draws laughs from his strange interactions with random Japanese people. Although I would have loved to see him take in a game of Dance Dance Revolution.

OK, probable spoiler here, but it seems like almost every review mentions it.

The ending to this film is absolutely perfect as Bob finally kisses Charlotte and whispers a final something into her ear. Only we are not allowed to hear what he says, only her muffled, crying "OK. Alright." response. What could he have said?

"You are beautiful. I love you. Call me when you get back to America."

"Had we but world enough, and time..."

"This is what was in the briefcase..."

"More than this - there is nothing"

Frankly, I like not knowing.

As an aside, one of Bob Harris' biggest hit movies was Lock 'n Load, a buddy-cop action/comedy where he played a detective who was partnered with a monkey. Can we PLEASE get Bill Murray to make this?

After seeing the movie, my friends and I parted and I drove home alone on the dark highway. Phantom Planet hummed over the car stereo while my headlights attempted to cut through the darkness and light a path home.

And decimal points and dollar signs
taxes penalties and fines
It’s come to cut you down
Numbers, passwords, protocol
it's not enough to save your soul
It’s come to cut you down
Bring you right back to zero

I was encompassed by a palpable sense of loneliness as I realized that everyone had someone they were going home to, except for me. They would be going home to their loves, to their connections. I would go into my already darkened house and speak to nobody. I didn’t want to go into that house.

This movie had filled me with a sort of crackling energy that I needed to share with somebody. I needed to grab somebody’s hand and run off into that deep shadowy night and we would have adventures and teach each other about life under the electric blinking lights of the city. We would share and we would laugh and we would talk about love and look at the stars. We would sit by the lake and let the lapping waves teach us their mysteries. We would run and hide from the police cars patrolling the beach with their spotlights.

BrooksMarlin really needs someone he can go out and share life with tonight.

and all is quiet...

I went to bed.

Note: the following is an interpretation of the movie, of my own, and is simply opinion. YMMV

Lost in Translation spoke to me in a way that normally, commercial cinema cannot, even with the best of intentions, writers, and directors. I sat through 15 minutes of commercials and previews, and the studio card came up. I had never heard of 'Focus Films' before.

Nor did I expect the subject of the very first shot to be as revealing. I knew I'd like the movie from that shot, because it's exactly the opposite of what the majority of the culture looks for when they watch an R-rated movie that contains an attractive female lead that shows a lot of skin. About 60% of the movie has Scarlett Johansson wearing a sweater and underwear, her (very nice) legs either up against her chest, in a sitting fetal position, or out in front of her. Most of the audience (and admittedly, myself at points) were wondering when the rest of the clothing would come off, most likely, but I was surprised that it didn't.

Lost in Translation was not about the characters the camera follows. This wasn't a movie about two Americans in Tokyo, wandering around aimlessly, and finding each other. This movie (as I saw it) was a perspective on truth. It focuses on the characters' relationships and reactions more than the characters themselves. The lack of dialogue and physical action (and nudity) leaves a lot of room for reflection on life itself. Why does marriage become a chore, and a bother, after some time? No doubt magic exists between two people, especially early on in a relationship. I felt that magic myself in the theatre, as my girlfriend was lying in my lap (thanks to the stadium theatre seats' movable armrests ^_^ ). Our day had been fairly lackluster, we'd had a small fight, and there was some tension in things, not to mention she was having stabbing pains in her side. We entered the theater tense, and left relaxed and still very much in love.

A good amount of the humor in this film was derived from the differences in American and Japanese culture. Bob Harris, when not in his hotel room mugging at bad television, is followed by a gaggle of chattering Japanese people he can't understand, or speak to, who seem empty to him. They are no doubt sincere in their actions, and well-meaning, but the meaning is lost in the translation of the culture to Bob's American eyes. I'm no expert in Japanese culture, so I will leave it to others to draw comparisons between the two, but I can relate to Bob's feeling of being alone in a crowd of people. The best way I can think of to experience it, I would say, comes from my own personal experience. I live in a middle-class section of my city, a pseudo-suburb, where the majority of the residents are white, and the streets are clean and maintainted, and the houses are upkept and neat. Before I obtained a driver's license, I took the bus everywhere I went. If I went downtown, especially around the time school let out, I was often the only white person on the bus, including the driver. I felt invisible. Not ignored, or discriminated, just… alone. I'm not racist in any way, and actually did talk to some of the people I met, but the cultural difference is there, and the truth is unavoidable.

This movie wasn't making fun of Japanese culture. It was making a point that I think a lot of us miss in life. Often times, it's not anything we as humans DO, or don't do, that separate and conflict in this world. Often, it's human nature. The cultural differences that separate white people from black people are not completely concrete, and are often stereotypical, and this doesn't explain anything completely, but the two have a tendency to associate and partner with their own race, and propagate in the same general area. This is part of the reason you can call a certain neighborhood in your city a 'white' or 'black' neighborhood. Note that this doesn't make any allusion to discrimination or wealth, just socialogical and natural differences.

Just as it's natural for humans to live and associate semi-exclusively with those they identify with, it's also natural for relationships to lose their magic. Living with the same person for years upon years becomes more of a test after time, and our culture's focus on the exterior qualities rather than intangible only makes it harder as some relationships are built on looks rather than any serious bond between personalities. Our society tends to be ashamed of these facts, however, and it's a problem to couples that they get tired of each other. Admittedly, I have limited experience (due to age and lack of married status) in these matters as well, but I know that the night my girlfriend and I attended the showing of Lost in Translation, we entered together, exhausted of each others' shortcomings. We exited the theater with a little more understanding of why we were together, and how little our human shortcomings really matter, compared to what brought us together.

Not that I'm saying it all works out in the end. That's another fact that our society needs to understand, and stop obsessing over. We're afraid to be unhappy. The quote alluding to what doesn't kill us making us stronger has more meaning than we'd like to think. Suffering does make us stronger, in ways. Being alone shows Bob what matters in life, beyond all material wealth, beyond the lights and glamour of his trip to Japan, most likely, when he leaves, he'll be thinking of Charlotte, and maybe he'll be thinking of his wife, and what brought them together all those years ago.

That's what this movie really said to me. Find the beauty in your life, be it small or enormous. It's there, and sometimes, it's exactly what you need to see a point to the trudge through life.

I'm not sure if many people realize how this fantastic film can viewed from quite an autobiographical standpoint.

The character of Charlotte, played with extreme brilliance by Scarlett Johansson, is a New York native. She has an artistic yet overworking husband John (Giovanni Ribisi) who ignites some negative feelings when he is sidetracked in his line of work with a high profile beautiful Hollywood blonde named Kelly (Anna Faris). During the trip to Tokyo that the movie profiles, Charlotte is often quite bored, yet finds solace through a native who knows the town quite well named Charlie Brown (Fumihiro Hayashi) and an older American man in town to shoot ads for Suntory Whiskey

Sofia Coppola, who wrote and directed "Lost in Translation" is a New York native herself. During production of Lost in Translation, Sophia had been married to Spike Jonze, a very well known filmmaker. In 2003 the couple divorced after spending most of the summer away from each other, and PageSix Online ran a quote that had a friend of Sophia saying "Sofia is fed up with Spike being completely obsessed with his career. And she never sees him anymore. Plus, he doesn't want kids and she does."

When Spike Jonze was making his 1999 film Being John Malkovich, he spent a very sizable amount of time with one of the films stars, Cameron Diaz, who is quite the high profile beautiful Hollywood blonde. Many people have compared the Anna Faris character of Kelly with Cameron Diaz.

And while such a trip to Tokyo never seems to have occurred in Sofia's life, her father, Francis Ford Coppola did once travel to Tokyo in the 1970s to shoot a Suntory Whiskey commercial with legendary Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Not to mention that Fumihiro Hayashi, the man who plays Charlie Brown, is a Tokyo native, a friend of Sofia's and when she is in town, he frequently guides her around.

Now while most of this is interesting, Sofia did address one of these issues publicly. In a 2004 Entertainment Weekly interview in which she denied throwing jabs at Cameron Diaz with the Anna Faris character.

I'm not saying that every single event in this film happened to Sofia, for I seriously doubt that she really find solace in an older man while Spike Jonze was overworking himself. Yet I think "Lost in Translation" has many more autobiographical aspects than people give it credit for. Perhaps that's why the movie seems to ring so true.

Now, I realize that the film Lost in Translation is, fundamentally, not about Japan. It is a movie about the relationship between two people and their feelings of isolation from the world, which just happens to be set in Tokyo. Even so, I have some problems with the movie and its relationship to its setting.

I've lived in Tokyo and it certainly can be huge and overwhelming, but it's doesn't have to be the dehumanizing "concrete jungle" that everyone always says. It's just a big city in another country. But real life Tokyo isn't where this movie is set. It's set in the idea of a huge city, made even more incomprehensible by the fact that it's a Japanese city and the characters know nothing of Japan and speak no Japanese. So, that's all right.

What bothers me are the reactions I've heard from many people who've seen this movie. They think they're getting a glimpse of the real Tokyo. The film happened to come out while I was living there and I got a lot of people telling me, "Oh, I saw this movie and I feel like I've been there! Is it like that?" The film takes on a weird staged feeling if when you watch it you can understand what all the Japanese people are saying and recognize where they're shooting half the shots.

Japanese culture is a lot more popular in the US lately, with a big boom of anime and manga, but I think Japan is still often seen as a place where "those wacky Japanese" do quirky, insane things. Lost in Translation only makes this idea of Japan worse. It presents the Japanese as shrill incomprehensible automatons and Tokyo as an isolating impenetrable maze. The movie isn't trying to be a statement about Japan, but nonetheless it makes one. The fact that Sofia Coppola knows no Japanese and only spent time there on vacation and to make the movie indicates to me that she has only interacted with Japan and its people on a very surface level, yet somehow the film has now become this standard of what life in Tokyo must really be like.

On a personal level, it drove me nuts to see the two main characters sit in their hotel the whole time, not even mustering the wherewithal to buy a guidebook, and then feel sorry for themselves that they felt isolated. But I understand that they were isolated from all of their lives and that their culture shock was a metaphor for the rest of it. However, even though the movie isn't directly about Japan, I think it could have been improved with a less stereotypical depiction of the Japanese. For such a potentially thought provoking movie, I found it remarkably shallow.

The most famous scene from Lost in Translation—the one from which the movie gets its title, I suppose—is undoubtedly the photo shoot scene. The translated version goes like this (at least according to IMDb):

DIRECTOR: Mr. Bob-san, you are relaxing in your study. On the table is a bottle of Suntory whiskey. Got it? Look slowly, with feeling, at the camera, and say it gently - say it as if you were speaking to an old friend. Just like Bogie in Casablanca, "Here's looking at you, kid" - Suntory time.
TRANSLATOR: Umm. He want you to turn, looking at camera. OK?
BILL MURRAY: That's all he said?
TRANSLATOR: Yes. Turn to camera.
BILL MURRAY: All right. Does he want me to turn from the right, or turn from the left?
TRANSLATOR: Uh, umm. He's ready now. He just wants to know if he's supposed to turn from the left or turn from the right when the camera rolls. What should I tell him?
DIRECTOR: What difference does it make! Makes no difference! Don't have time for that! Got it, Bob-san? Just psych yourself up, and quick! Look straight at the camera. At the camera. And slowly. With passion. Straight at the camera. And in your eyes there's... passion. Got it?
TRANSLATOR: Right side. And with intensity. OK?

Yeah, that was pretty funny. Japanese people are funny. So is Bill Murray.

Sometimes, I get pulled from my desk to be an interpreter. This never quite seems to work properly. I mean, it's fine when you're at a bar and your foreign friend is pissing off a couple of girls and their friend is like

FRIEND: What are they talking about, anyway?
ME: They're debating Yasukuni Shrine. He's saying it's the prerogative of the government to decide whether to go there and she's going on about Asian relations. It's pretty stupid, actually.
FRIEND: Yeah, isn't it?
ME: There are such better things to talk about.
ME: Like what would you do if I kissed you right now?
FRIEND: Here? Uh, there are people watching...
ME: They won't be watching in that conveniently-located unisex restroom. Tally ho!

The first time I was asked to do it seriously was for a courtroom proceeding involving testimony by an American guy. When we entered the courtroom, I discovered that the opposing counsel spoke perfect American English and was incredibly willing to nitpick everything I translated, and obfuscate his questions enough to make it impossible for me to figure out what he wanted to say.

OTHER SIDE: (in Japanese) American vagabond! What is your income here? Speak now or forever hold your peace!
ME: Uhm... (looks hesitatingly toward the lawyer)
OUR SIDE: Uhm... (looks hesitatingly toward the judge)
OTHER SIDE: (in English) Your income! What is your income in Japan?
DEFENDANT: Er, thirty thousand a month.
ME: San man en, to iu koto desu...
DEFENDANT: That's dollars, asshole, not yen.
ME: Doru.
JUDGE: Thank you.

That experience showed me that it can often be better to leave things out.

The next interpreting job I got was in a heated negotiation over a technology licensing deal. Our client was an American company run by a no-bullshit Silicon Valley-type manager who didn't speak a word of Japanese. On the other side was a wall of Japanese managerial types.

I showed up at the meeting with one of our senior associates, Otsuyama-sensei, a Japanese woman about half my height who knows lots of English but has no hope of ever speaking it. The pre-meeting went something like this:

CFO: ...So I think we will have to have that provision amended accordingly.
CORPORATE COUNSEL (on speakerphone): Certainly. That's going to make it impossible to capitalize the income. Okay then, we'll go with it.
VP/ASIA: Do you see any problems, Ms. Otsuyama?
(Otsuyama continues to read through the change log; I kick her under the table)
ME: Mondai.
OTSUYAMA: Oh, ii. Uh, it's OK?
CORPORATE COUNSEL: In that case, we should move on to Section 13...

And then the meeting was no better. It started like this:

THEIR CFO: (in Japanese) For starters, let's talk about the pricing scheme. I know what you're proposing but you need to see how the mechanics are going to work at our end. (five minutes of finance babble and whiteboard scribbling deleted for your protection) Is that acceptable?
(awkward silence)
OUR CFO: Uh, Mr. Sekicho, can you translate that for Palo Alto?
ME: Huh?
OTSUYAMA: (whispers) They want to extend the term from 18 months to 24 months.
ME: Oh. Hey, Bob, you there?
BOB (on speakerphone): (sound of clicking away from the porn site he must have had open on his desktop by now) Ah, yeah, I'm here!
ME: They want 24 months instead of 18. What do you say?
BOB: I say tell them to stick it up their ass!
ME: Ah, yes, Tanaka-san, he says it will be very difficult to accept 24 months at this time given the circumstances with their other providers.

Before long, I was doing the condensing myself.

THEIR GENERAL COUNSEL: But your company will want to exclude that from Section 43. It's really in your best interest. You're aware of the provision in the Tax Convention that allows you to obtain zero percent treatment for that sort of payment, aren't you? That's the reason we put that in there, for your own best interest.
(the VP/Asia and I simultaneously lean backward in our chairs to talk behind everyone else)
ME: Escaping taxes under the treaty. You know anything about that?
VP/ASIA: No. Do you?
ME: Um, (to Otsuyama) are we supposed to be giving tax advice?
OTSUYAMA: No, we send that out to our zeirishi.
ME: Ah. Well, we'll find out for you then.
VP/ASIA: Excellent. Hey Bob.
BOB: Uh, yeah, I'm here!
VP/ASIA: Bob, we've got a tax question...
(sound of Bob turning white)
VP/ASIA: ...they say they'll get us an answer on it.
BOB: Phew!
OTSUYAMA: (whispering) Or we could just open a book.
ME: Ah, yes, Tanaka-san, we will confirm that and report back to you as soon as that has been completed. Is that acceptable?

But you know, the real question is, how much was really lost? So much of what we say is just bullshit, fluff to cover up our point. Lawyers are among the most guilty parties, but look around you and you'll see that everyone's doing it. Maybe the world needs more translators everywhere. Maybe there's a lot we could afford to lose in translation.

About the movie again, this basically sums it up:

A NODER: Hey sekicho, you should really see Lost in Translation.
(one week later)
ME: I saw it. It was pretty cool.
SAME NODER: Yeah, didn't you love the opening with Scarlett Johansson's ass?

In Lost in Translation, we see a picture of the actor in the waning years of his career struggling to find money. Bill Murray's character's decision to go to Japan and act in whiskey commercials is seen as the bottom of the barrel: his name is for sale to anybody.

What isn't addressed in the movie is that the practice of English-speaking celebrities acting in Japanese commercials is fairly common. maintains a huge collection of these commercials, featuring many famous actors and other celebrities from the past twenty or twenty five years in commercials for all sorts of Japanese products.

Think about it this way: you are offered a lot of money to be flown to Japan, act in a short commercial, and come home. The odds of any of your English-speaking fans seeing your commercial are practically nil. Without resources like Japander, nobody would ever really find out.

In fact, plenty of celebrities have acted in commercials for Suntory Whiskey, which Harris is advertising in the movie. Among them are Francis Ford Coppola (whose commercial was made by Akira Kurosawa, no less) and Sean Connery. Coppola's stint in Japanese commercials was partially the inspiration for Lost in Translation (Sophia Coppola is his daughter), and Connery's participation is indirectly referenced through the Bond actor discussion that Harris has during the filming of the commercial.

You can also take a look at Nicolas Cage's TV Commercial for Pachinko.


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