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Film / Lost in Translation (2003)

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"I can't tell you how many people have told me that they just don't get Lost in Translation. They want to know what it's about. They complain 'nothing happens.' They've been trained by movies that tell them where to look and what to feel, in stories that have a beginning, a middle and an end. Lost in Translation offers an experience in the exercise of empathy. The characters empathize with each other (that's what it's about), and we can empathize with them going through that process."

Lost in Translation is a 2003 film, the second to be written and directed by Sofia Coppola after The Virgin Suicides. It stars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, with Giovanni Ribisi and Anna Faris in notable supporting roles.

Bob Harris (Murray) is a Hollywood actor past his prime, who despite his fame and success feels existentially empty. He goes to Tokyo to play in a commercial for the Suntory whiskey brand. Plagued by insomnia, he meets Charlotte (Johansson), the young and bored college grad who has followed her oblivious fashion photographer husband (Ribisi) to Japan, where he's photographing a ditzy film starlet (Faris).

With too much time on their hands and no idea what to do in Japan, Bob and Charlotte drift together and become emotionally close.

Contains examples of:

  • Actor Allusion:
    • The gag about not getting the Sean Connery James Bond films. In Real Life, the popularity of the Bond films led to Connery doing a famous series of ads for Suntory. Given that Francis Ford Coppola was also part of that series of ads, this was most likely intentional.
    • Downplayed but present. Bill Murray's character is seen playing miniature golf, but deliberately does not channel his character in Caddyshack ("Be the ball, be the ball...It's in the hole!") Murray and his brothers are all avid golfers in real life, and even host an annual charity outing.
  • Ambiguous Ending: After everything, Charlotte and Bob simply say their farewells and go back to their lives; save for the mystery of what Bob whispers to her, and the plot simply ends on a rather vague but bittersweet note.
  • Arcade Sounds: The arcade sounds in the film were not the original noises, but they're no Pac Man Fever noises either.
  • Art Imitates Art: The opening shot of Charlotte is actually influenced by a painting by John Kacere, whose painting shows up later in the hotel.
  • Author Avatar: Sofia Coppola based Charlotte on herself, while John is her then-husband Spike Jonze.
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • Amusing scenes in which Bob and Charlotte interact with the locals are even funnier if you understand Japanese, such as the direction given to Bob.
      The Director: [in Japanese, to his interpreter] The translation is very important, okay? The translation.
      Interpreter: [in Japanese] Yes, of course. I understand.
      The Director: [In Japanese, to Bob] Mr. Bob. You are sitting quietly in your study. And then there is a bottle of Suntory whisky on top of the table. You understand, right? With wholehearted feeling, slowly, look at the camera, tenderly, and as if you are meeting old friends, say the words. As if you are Bogie in Casablanca, saying, "Here's looking at you, kid,"—Suntory time!
      The Interpreter: [In English, to Bob] He wants you to turn, look in camera, okay?
    • The old lady in the hospital waiting room asks Bob how many years he has been in Japan.
  • Book Ends: The movie starts with Bob coming into the city in a cab, and ends with him leaving the same way.
  • The Cameo: Japanese late-night TV host Takashi Fujii, a.k.a. Matthew Minami, as himself.
  • Celebrity Paradox: Actually a weird subversion. While channel-surfing, Bob chances upon a Saturday Night Live re-run that features a younger Bill Murray, but it is implied that In-Universe it is a movie or TV show featuring Bob Harris, not Murray.
  • Central Theme: Loneliness, exclusion, communication, and self-discovery.
  • The Chanteuse: One has an act at the five-star hotel where Bob and Charlotte are staying.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The Chanteuse, who seems to be nothing more than a bit of color in the hotel bar where Bob and Charlotte often wind up drinking...until Bob has sex with her, and Charlotte finds out. This drives a wedge between them and is likely what prevents them from consummating their relationship.
  • Comically Missing the Point:
    • Charlotte and Bob's lunch at the shabu-shabu restaurant is fraught with tension, because Charlotte has just caught Bob sleeping with someone. Because of the Unresolved Sexual Tension between the two (even though they're both married), the lunch was very awkward. The next day, as they're saying goodbye in the hotel lobby, Charlotte's in a forgiving mood. "That was the worst lunch," she says with a smile. "What kind of restaurant makes you cook your own food?" Bob replies.
    • The ditzy film starlet is giving an interview and starts saying how close she feels to Japan because of Buddhism. Her reasoning is that she believes in reincarnation, and says that it represents hope and is a good thing, whereas the whole point of Buddhism is that the cycle of reincarnation is suffering and one must find a way to end it by becoming enlightened.
  • Covert Pervert: When Bob is changing out of his lurid orange t-shirt in the bathroom, Charlotte takes a little peek and smiles.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    • Bob Harris. Well, he is played by Bill Murray.
    • Charlotte also gets in her share of barbs.
  • Desperately Looking for a Purpose in Life: Charlotte, and to a certain extent Bob as well.
  • Dumb Blonde: Kelly, the stereotypical blonde starlet who will natter on endlessly about nothing.
  • Exotic Backdrop Setting: Tokyo sure does look pretty.
  • Fanservice: The opening close-up Panty Shot of a sleeping Charlotte, followed by several more shots of her in her underwear.
  • Fish out of Water: Both Bob and Charlotte are completely unfamiliar with Japanese culture, and find life in Tokyo endlessly baffling.
  • Foreign Queasine: Bob and Charlotte go to a shabu-shabu restaurant. The menu has a bunch of identical pictures of meat. Bob points to one with disinterest and later complains about having to cook his own food.
  • Funny Background Event: The scene of Bob trying to reach an understanding with a Japanese native in hospital makes two ladies in the background unable to hold their laughter in.
  • Genki Girl: Kelly.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: In-universe.
    • Bob Harris is apparently a fading actor, but he's popular enough in Japan to endorse liquor.
    • And the Japanese apparently think Roger Moore was the best James Bond actor.
  • High-Class Call Girl: Bob is sent one complimentary. He rebuffs her, although her showing up with no notice and going "lip my stocking!" was part of the reason why.
  • Hollywood Tone-Deaf: Kelly sings a song at the bar. Badly.
  • Homage: The opening shot is a more fanservice-y recreation of one in In the Mood for Love. The dinner scene at the Shabu-shabu restaurant is also a reference to the same movie.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Charlotte is in her early to mid-20s, while Bob is pushing past middle age.
  • Ivy League for Everyone: When Charlotte mocks Kelly's intellectual gaffe, her husband tells her that not everyone went to Yale.
  • Japandering: The basis for Bob being in Japan is to make a Japanese commercial for whiskey.
  • Japanese Ranguage: Used and lampshaded extensively. "Lip my stockings!"
    • In one scene, Charlotte asks Bob why the Japanese mix up Ls and Rs. He jokingly claims that they do it for their own amusement.
  • Karaoke Bonding Scene: While at a Karaoke Box, Bob and Charlotte each sing songs that evoke the needs their friendship is fulfilling, in Bob's case Roxy Music's "More Than This", a song about the passing of time and the need to live in the moment to avoid wallowing in the sadness of loss, and in Charlotte's "Brass in Pocket" by the Pretenders, which is about a woman attempting to gain the attention of a man in whom she is interested.
  • Karaoke Box: Bob and Charlotte go to one, the site of the aforementioned Karaoke Bonding Scene, with their Japanese friends after a party.
  • Life of the Party: Subverted. As Roger Ebert puts it in his review of the film: "Bob Harris, who could be funny, who could be the life of the party, who could do impressions in the karaoke bar and play games with the director of the TV commercial, but doesn't—because being funny is what he does for a living, and right now he is too tired and sad to do it for free."
  • Lonely Together: This is why Bob and Charlotte bond.
  • Lost in Translation: Being the inspiration for the film's title, this shows up a lot. The most obvious example is the Translation: "Yes" scene where the commercial director gives Bob a long spiel, and the translator just tells him to look at the camera.
  • Lounge Lizard: Bob has a one night stand with a female one.
  • Luxurious Liquor: Bill Murray's character is at one point shooting a commercial for the expensive whiskey brand "Suntory" in which he has to convey the "Liquor is Luxury" trope. Unfortunately, he doesn't understand the director's instructions due to an inept interpreter so the whole shoot is a strenuous endeavor. However, the photo shoot works out much better.
  • Male Gaze: The camera will sometimes focus on Charlotte's rear end, especially if she is left alone in her apartment where she isn't wearing pants.
  • May–December Romance: The possibility of Charlotte and Bob's Intergenerational Friendship turning into romance is always lingering beneath the surface, but it ultimately proves more pure than that.
  • Mid-Life Crisis Car: Lampshaded. Charlotte says to Bob, "Sounds like a midlife crisis. Did you buy a Porsche yet?"
  • Motifs: Charlotte's detachment from her surroundings is often visualized by her observing the world through a window, be it from a cab, a train, or her hotel room.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Charlotte, courtesy of Scarlett Johansson.
  • Next Thing They Knew: With Bob and the lounge singer.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
    • Anna Faris' portrayal of Kelly is based on director Coppola's rather dim view of actress Cameron Diaz.
    • Charlotte's husband John is thought to be a dead ringer for Coppola's ex-husband Spike Jonze; while Coppola did admit to basing elements of John's character off of Jonze, she denied making a flat-out copy of him.
    • Bob the movie star doing a commercial for Japanese whiskey. Guess what real-life movie star did advertisements for a Japanese beer, Kirin Lager? Harrison Ford, that's who.
    • Murray based Bob on Charles Bronson.
  • Pants-Free: Charlotte usually goes without pants when she's alone in her apartment.
  • Pink Is Erotic: Ms. Fanservice Charlotte is seen in pink panties whenever she is in her apartment. Additionally, she also dons a pink wig.
  • Product Placement:
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: As the title implies, the characters are alienated from their surroundings by not speaking the language or understanding the culture. This draws them to each other and causes them to do more self-examination than they otherwise would.
  • Riddle for the Ages:
    • What did Bob whisper in Charlotte's ear at the end: A message of hope for her future? A promise to meet again someday? A heartfelt thank-you for the short time their lives intersected? Something else entirely? Fans have used audio enhancement to get a vague idea, but it's still unclear. Ultimately it's irrelevant—Coppola wrote no dialogue for the scene and told Murray to just say anything so she could get the shot of his lips moving. When questioned on this matter in a Reddit AMA, Murray at least partially jokingly said he forgot.
    • Also, who is the actor Bob was talking about to the waiter, the actor who has been married a couple of times and whom Bob doesn't care is gay or not?
  • Scenery Porn: Of Tokyo, Japan.
  • Shout-Out: The opening shot is a reference to In the Mood for Love, which Coppola is known to be a huge fan of.
  • Shrines and Temples: Charlotte visits a Zen temple. She later complains that she felt nothing from the experience.
  • Silence Is Golden: There are lots of notably centric sequences with no dialogue populated solely by the background noise of the scene and/or Coppola's music of choice.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: The movie is perfectly placed in the middle.
  • Silent Whisper: At the end of the movie, Bob whispers something to Charlotte just before he leaves Tokyo.
  • Talk Show: Bob is invited to appear on one.
  • Translation: "Yes": The commercial director gives a long, emphatic spiel, but this is translated into curt and simplistic instructions. Bob objects that the director seemed to be saying more. note 
  • Unresolved Sexual Tension: Bob and Charlotte's friendship is obviously accented by mutual attraction that neither seem to want to act on. When Bob has a one-night-stand with another woman, Charlotte's cold reaction includes some jealousy.
  • The Voice: Bob's wife is only heard on the phone.
  • Weddings in Japan: Charlotte chances upon a traditional wedding while visiting Kyoto.
  • "What Now?" Ending: Charlotte and Bob are both stuck in their lives and need to make a choice about how to proceed. It's implied that their vacation in Tokyo will help them decide what to do next, but we don't know what their choices will be.

Alternative Title(s): Lost In Translation