asianmediawatch.net has started a campaign to petition the movie industry to vote against "Lost In Translation" for the Academy Awards.

My sister blogs about the negative depictions of Japanese in "Lost in Translation". She links to a UK Guardian and New York Times article that point out similar issues with the movie.

When I first saw the movie, I thought it was funny. After reading the articles and the asianmediawatch site and thinking about how much influence Hollywood has on the way the world views cultures, I can see their point.

64 Comments

I just saw the movie yesterday. Personally, I think the movie industry should vote against "Lost in Translation" because its not that great a movie. Bill Murray however was great.

Its a story about going somewhere and being struck with an unexpected sense of foreigness. Are the japanese over the top? Sure, but its all about making the experience just so "foreign" for american viewers. The joke about the director talking for ten minutes and then the english translation being three words is a gag as old as the hills (actually came from english dubs of chinese kung-fu movies).

I didn't find any of the other portraits offensive or demeaning. The video arcades were cool, the visit to the hospital showed the japanese as completely competent at taking care of our heroine despite the language gap, and in the restaurants, the japanese just deal with two visitors with patience and calm.

Life is seldom portrayed accurately in hollywood films. While there's some truth about life in LIT (like the part about how children change your life), in general its a film, and its views are the views the story teller created to tell the story.

what took them so long? this is coming so late that the votes to give the film some sort of Oscar are probably already in. because of bad timing (too late), this effort might not have the desired effect on the Oscars. that said, I agree with the group's efforts.

On Mimi's blog, she makes the a great point which I think explains, 1)why so americans don't see the film in any negative light, and 2)why it took the move against the film so long to gather steam.

Mimi says, "...the racism in the film is not explicit and intentional but implicit and submerged." EXACTLY.

This is a tough one. I did very much enjoy the film, and especially its expertly subtle depiction of social intimacy. And I did find myself physically uncomfortable during the scenes that featured particularly strong stereotypes (e.g. the L/R pronounciation issue).

That said, I don't feel that I experienced these scenes as racism, as expressions of racism, as racist speech. Do we tend to equate representations with speech too easily? Is representing a stereotype really tantamount to endorising it? Does the frame in which this whole film resides already orient the viewer toward a somewhat introspective and self-ironic view of the translation gap or the culture gap? Are we really content to reject works like Lost in Translation as such because they give voice to stereotypes and invite (demand?) the viewer to orient him or herself toward them?

Speaking of framing, I find it interesting to frame this issue as a "racial" one. I'm certainly not an expert in Japan, but I would think that this framing itself is actually a very American response, since race codes much stronger for us. Maybe someone can correct me...

My understanding of the film was that it represented the director's view of Japan. A specifically personal story exploring her experience of Tokyo and the sense of isolation she felt when accompanying her husband Spike Jonze making 'Jackass'. Maybe this not what Japan is like, I'm not lucky enough to have travelled there to find out for myself, yet. However the scenes set in the hotel were right on the money. Travel to any hotel in the world and you'll find that same middle of the road band playing in the same dimly lit bar.

Caricature is not necessarily racism -- without caricature there can be no art.

The movie was apparently driven from Coppola's personal experience of Tokyo, but it is not a documentary, so only the protagonists get sympathetic treatments, everybody else must be a story/plot device.

I don't think cultural centricity is a soft form of racism; more accurately it is just chauvinism, something that we all are "guilty" of.

If Japan weren't truly an alien place to the non-Japanese-speaking anglo-european, there would be no "lost in translation", and no movie exploring these issues to be made here.

I don't think bad about japanese people after this film, not at all. And I don't think the two portraied americans do. This film is about two people experiencing the culture gap while not understanding a single word of the language of the country they are in. If this movie is critizising something, then it is the american's way of not perparing when going to foreign countries. Ok, the film nurtures stereotypes, but which one doesn't? It's a movie, it tells a story. That story includes one town in Japan. Not all of Japan. Not every type of Japanese. Neither does it intend to. It is not an insult to the Japanese people and more importantly not intended to be.

I googled the Japanese name for the movie to read Japanese reactions to the film, and I didn't see any outrage or anger. I got the impression most Japanese reviewers considered it a decent-enough movie, although certainly not in the ranks of the classics.

This doesn't surprise me, because Japan is one of Hollywood's largest markets and I'm sure they tested the film for positive/negative reactions in Japan before releasing it.

no amount of writing about the movie is going to convince me it was communicating something negative about japan that wasn't actually communicated to anyone i know (both americans and japanese) while they watched the movie.

I posted some comments on my chanpon.org entry that I will partially reproduce here since they seem relevant.

Pete had mentioned that the underlying issue seems to be what we call racism. I concur. 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 Paik and Day 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.

Lost in Translation is not a light-hearted comedy, and it is not a film about Japan. It is a portrait of two individuals and the bond they form due to their isolation in a culture that they don't understand.

All other characters in the film (including a number of Americans) are undeveloped because they are supposed to be a part of the background, part of this alien landscape in which the protagonists are lost. If any of them were more fully developed, if any existed beyond a caricature, it would have distracted from what is an intensely personal story about two characters who have carved out an insular niche amid the chaos of the world they find themselves in. If the protagonists had been capable of more significant conversations with the Japanese (or with the other Americans, for that matter), the ambiance of isolation, arguably the film's strongest point, would have been lost.

I agree that it is the responsibility of filmmakers to avoid making movies that are overtly racist. But if we start requiring them to ensure that they avoid "submerged racism", if we mandate that every film present an equal level of development for characters of all races, genders, sexual orientations, and religions, regardless of the artistic motivation for doing so, then a number of great stories will never be told, and the art of filmmaking will have been destroyed by political correctness.

After reading this, I will now go and dig up every movie that amplifies the Australian stereotype and petition the industry. Including Australian movies.

I must concur with Keith's comment. This film is not about Japan. Rather, it is about the search by the two main characters for human connection against the backdrop of an unfamiliar setting. It is in this unfamiliar setting that the characters find commonalities (insomnia, cultural bewilderment) that start to bind them together. The backdrop is just that: a backdrop. This film could have been set in any number of place exotic to American visitors, but since Soffia Coppola was familiar with Toyko, it was set there.

In addition, this was the best film of 2003 in my opinion.

Some people are just too sensitive. Seriously from Native American groups complaining about Outkast's performance on the Grammy's to this BS I just wonder how horrible it must be to live with one of these critics, getting slighted or offended at least once a day about something.

"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)?"

Yes of course they are! The Japanese culture is quite different from American culture, so I'd expect to see some differences between the way Japenese characters & American characters act in this movie. No where in this movie, "submerged" or otherwise, does saying that since Japanese folks are different it's okay to treat them badly, or think they are "one-dimensional"/less than human. In many scenes they are hanging out/talking to/interacting with Japanese characters just like you and me would hang out with some of the locals if we were on vacation somewhere -- you don't have time to really get to know them beyond a surface sketch, but that doesn't imply anything. The very fact the characters are hanging out with Japanese characters shows a willingness for friendship which belies any racism charge. Of course there is more to each Japanese person they interact with in the film, the film doesn't explore that because it is about the two American characters -- which indeed is the fact these critics don't like. So it is their prejudice against the U.S. they need to deal with, the fact that anything this country does they instinctively are repulsed by (or at least distrusting of).

"As a viewer, can you find ways of identifying with with the Japanese characters?"

Do the people lodging complaints against this movie view their fellow (white) man so poorly that they believe we'd walk out of this movie and start thinking about all Japanese people we meet as one-dimensional, as something less than human? However powerful the "explicit" or "submerged racism" might be do you really think white folks who see this are going to start going up to their Japanese friends/coworkers and asking them to pronounce words with r's in them so that they can laugh?

"Japanese really do speak terrible English and are small dark and inscrutable."

I imagine walking down the street in Tokyo more often than not you'll find Japanese folks who don't speak English very well. No surprise as they are LIVING IN JAPAN and given how completely oppositve the language is from English this is understandable. "Small and dark". Is it really racist to know that the average Japanese male has a better tan and is a couple inches shorter than the average American male? (http://www.tallpages.com/uk/index.php?pag=ukstatist.php)

"Inscrutable" You don't think that to the average American the Japanese culture might contain, just a little bit maybe, some obscurity? Each of the 2 main characters is over in Japan for a reason and they are also dealing with some personal issues, so they don't have to time to really dig deep in to Japanese culture -- nevertheless they enjoy their time and nowhere does the movie even imply that personalities and capabilities of your average Japanese individual are somewhat simple/onedimensional/2nd rate. Just because they have have a few laughs at the differences in culture does not mean racism, it's means y'all critics need to lighten up and get a sense of humor.

When we start talking about "requiring filmakers" to represent things a certain way or "rejecting" or even censoring a film, I get uncomfortable.

I can't speak for asianmediawatch, but all that I am pushing for is some critical dialog and reflection. I have watched LIT, as well as Last Samurai, and Kill Bill, and have suggested my students watch them. I think the debates these films have provoked about representations of Japanese culture have been provocative and important. I have not heard any of the critics talk about mandates, censorship or requirements, so I think it is unnecessarily polarizing to suggest that these are the issues on the table.

I agree with Keith that all sorts of works and opinions should be out there for public viewing and scrutiny. But I also think it is important for their to be ongoing and organized critique even if it diverges from mainstream viewpoints.

People experience the film in different ways and certain subgroups have a different stake in it than others. Isn't that healthy dissent and diversity? Is it really necessary to converge on a single reading of what the film definitively is or is not?

I spent half my life growing up in Japan and the other half in America. Thoughout I've been an American, struggling to understand and partake in the Japanese culture and ancestry that I share as a half-Japanese American.

I don't see LIT as racist. From a pedantic point of view the division is cultural, not racial. From a personal point of view, the disconnect that the main characters feel with the Japanese culture, and the lack of identification that Mimi cites, is one that I personally feel, despite the many years I have spent in Japan. My struggle to connect with the Japanese culture doesn't mean that I denigrate the culture, or that I have a condescending view of it. Similarly, portraying this disconnect that others and I naturally feel in a movie isn't automatically racist, nor does it display cultural elitism.

The important distinction is that, while stories like LIT can take the opportunity to portray one culture as being superior, LIT doesn't. If LIT had a scene where Bill Murray's character returns to America, and the American culture is elevated on a pedestal and portrayed as being superior, then I would change my opinion. Instead, LIT is filled with scenes such as Scarlett Johansson's character visiting Kyoto that are respectful, and it's clear that the characters' problems will not evaporate when they return to America.

I don't feel that my feelings are racist/cultural elitist, and I welcome movies that portray emotions that I personally can identify with. Petitions like this make me imagine a world where every movie is a tourism video instead of a story, a politically correct whitewash without any honest emotion or portrayals.

I found that most american films (maybe news?) depict stereotypes. In Bowling for Columbine they talk about it when interviewing COPS's producer: why thiefs and murderes are always blacks or spanish?

Anyway, is always stereotyping a kind of racism?

Stereotyping, prejudice, bigotry, and racism are all interrelated. eg. at its worst stereotyping can reinforce prejudices for propadandistic purposes.

But stereotypes can often (if not usually) contain a kernel (sometime large) of truth to them, and can be positive as well as negative.

Criticizing the movie because it is full of negative cultural/racial stereotypes is IMO silly, simply because the story (taken as a whole) is well-told.

The critics would have a point that positive cultural portrayals are hard to find in american media -- but that's not a movie that Sofia Coppola can make & market --so we should criticize the industry and not poor Sofia.

Gung Ho, Black Rain, Mr Baseball, Rising Sun were all stereotypical to some extent, but I think the first 3 portrayed their stories rather well in the end.

Yoohoo. You've no idea how much I am glad to run into the same opinion as mine about the movie LIT and see anybody who tries to organize the voice against the cultural imperialism the movie could time and time again promote, which is passing even without any decent argument in Holywood. LIT is awfully guilty in terms of its obvious racism and white superemacy, exploiting somewhere far from home believing they can gey away with it for people in Japan are practically voiceless toward the rest of the world.
The saddest phenomenon so far has been, though, that no voice of a Japanese heard that questions the movie's distorted persepective that reinforces the same old Orientalism and the premise of what Holywood and US of A.

chimaDC . . . it's a movie, not a documentary.

Of course Hollywood "promotes" cultural imperialism . . . that's what it sells to the US, and the world by extension.

Japan provides a rich vein for irony, comedy, and contrast, and to criticize the movie makers for using this source material is simply inane -- I just take the movie on its own terms and don't lay at Sofia's feet what is wrong with the world as a whole.

People who take offense to the movie are looking for reason to take offense. That seems to be the norm more and more though, sadly.

It's interesting that "Lost in Translation", "Last Samurai", and "kill Bill" are widely distributed in Japan (as are most Hollywood movies), but there is not much interest in "Japanese Story" here in Japan either. Mimi, do you have any idea where I could buy a DVD copy of "Japanese Story" in Japan?

I saw the main point of the movie as being alienation - the result of so much being "lost in translation". For the love story, this plays out in the two main characters, even though from the same culture, having such a struggle before finally connecting (and the eventual connection is made all the more beautiful and mysterious by us not being privy to it, a very un-Hollywood moment). Their inability to understand the culture around them echoes and reinforces this sense of the challenges we face in really connecting with one another. In other words, Japan through their eyes *is* inscrutable, and that's an important part of the movie.

That said, i for one would love to use it as an opportunity to learn. So would anyone like to point out what exactly happened beside the L/R pronunciation thing that played into racist or offensive stereotypes?

[posted from the airport in Tokyo!]

John: Mimi's Paik and Day links above have examples that offended them.

the movie used japanese people who spoke weird english and repeated everything like 100 times as props to incite laugher. i can't believe many friends including japanese back home loved it - becuz it's so "hip" but they don't realize they're being used as props this is really disturbing. movie was beautiful in many ways but i see director's way of perceiving japanese thru this film and hollywood too for taht matter

Let me go out on a limb here. Maybe Mark will comment. But is LIT (there I used the acronym) any more stereotypical of the Japanese than Japanese movies are? While I'm to a huge fan of Japanese movies, there seems to be a stereotypical image running though them of what a Japanese should be.

For example, what does the hero of Odoru Sosasen 2 regularly get dressed down for?

Being individualistic.

Japanese never go out and do things on their own initiative. Anyone who does is not being Japanese nor playing by the rules.

To push the point a bit further, when I saw The Last Samurai, I thought "At last, a bit of realistic chambara."

In most period movies made in Japan, the choreography is smooth as a ballet and the hero never breaks out in a sweat. Cruise and his samurai buddies kicked and spat and shouted and punched . . . along with using their swords . . . which is my idea of what battlefield swordplay was probably like. But that's not the image the Japanese movies (post nihilism era anyway) want to portray.

So, I guess my point is this -- Japanese like to be portrayed as different and also think of themselves as being different, just because they are Japanese.

what really bugs me is how those Police Academy movies don't accurately show what real police academies are like.

We should boycot something.

I too thought this movie was pretty funny when I saw it, though some scenes made me wince (lip my stocking scene, in particular). However, I was left feeling like it's represenation of Japan was kind of comic-book.

For what it's worth, and not to quibble over definitions, but I would say the film-making employed here is more ethnocentric than racist. Japan (especially Tokyo) is made up of several different races, many of which fall under the Japanese cultural umbrella. I can't see that any of these races in particular is being singled out. For instance, whose to say that the youths playing the arcade came guitar freaks (yes, I have played it ;P ) aren't racially Korean? (Caveat: this point is moot if you take the Asian race as one homogenous race, which I don't.)

So I would suggest that this is not racist, but..uh..."culturalist"...or some word like that.

It shouldn't be suprising that the art we create reflects our cultural (ethnocentric) perspective, it's natural, really, if a bit disappointing sometimes. But an artist whose art is found in expanding past her cultural bias is a hell of a lot more exciting to me.

On a different note, one really interesting thread of this conversation is the veneration of all things ancient in Japan while ignoring Japan's unique modernity. It's one of those things I guess I've always felt but never heard put into words. I've seen it in ex-pats in Japan who talk about reverently about all the amazing shrines they've visited, but seem to have no will to make Japanese friends. That always bugged me, but this discussion helped me bring into focus why. Interesting stuff!

As somebody pointed out, though, it is way too late to raise people's consciousness against what LIT's driving at with/without its intention. However, it might be a good opportunuty for Japanese people to be educated and aware more where they are situated in the world and how to interprete racism against themselves. And more importantly, how to say NO to those who are exploiting them.
Somebody mentioned that LIT should deserve some redemption for it is not documentary(!). That sounded too naive; it made me laugh a lot and angered me after all for I was amazed to see how people could stay ignorant, unless they get hurt.
Any sort of representation can be responsible for dynamics/politics its direct/indirect discourse forms, which inevitably causes 'hegemony'.
Even the premise of this movie explains the racism that the movie was based upon; an American big name can make a quick cash if only he puts up with some humiliation in Far East where nobody seems to be really a human (remember the monkey that flashed quickly? what can we perceive from the sight and what can the implication be?)in the standard of white American.
I have been troubled since when this movie was released in the US but nobody properly pointed out how this movie could reenforce and distribute the negative view on Japanese/Asian people.
I am sick and tired of how people are dense and thick when it comes to articulating the horrible racism on the make against Asian people. Generally speaking, though, regular American tend to show overt racism against Asians for they are thought to be undereducated on interpreting racism compared to Afro-American. (See how much Hollywood is going crazy to have discovered the promised land of cultural colony and the locals don't even know how to complain. That is Japan)But you can't expect white american to initiate the proper discourse on the issue. It is Japanese people that are responsible to voice what they find inappropreate in the movie.
To my surprise, this movie was finally released in Japan as awell. I presumed that it would not be shown there for many problems that I found. People in Japan might make most of it and catch the chance to start the discorse on the unfair relationship with USA this movie premised and unfolded exactly. At least it served one important point.

It annoys me even more now that I know asianmediawatch endores the Last Samurai, which is a rehash of the classic "white man among others" theme, and is also a dishonest, over-idealized portrayal of Meiji-era samurai. While I appreciate a good samurai film more than most people, the samurai it portrays is a myth, a cinematic creation. The real samurai were bureaucrats, tax collectors for the rich. Saigo, whom the movie loosely portrays, was in real life fighting to retain his aristocracy. To praise Last Samurai and petition against LIT reeks of hypocrisy.

"explains the racism that the movie was based upon; an American big name can make a quick cash if only he puts up with some humiliation in Far East where nobody seems to be really a human"

Is something "racist" if it is actually true? ? ?

Note the word "seems" in your quote immediately above. THAT IS THE %*#$(# KERNEL OF THE MOVIE! The protagonists were in an alien environment. It could have been the moon instead, but the filmmaker had personal experience of Japan, and Japan certainly provides enough entertaining examples, so I can't fault her for putting her characters in Tokyo, at the expense of **necessarily** caricaturizing modern Japanese society to some extent.

All the neo-marxist talk of hegemony and cultural imperialism should be directed at the industry and not Coppola. She was just making a movie, primarily for the enjoyment of the American audience.

Ken: I think the people carping at LIT are just looking for more positive portrayals of asians in media/movies. It's a fair cop, I think (though as I write here I think their criticisms of Coppola are all wet).

A letter I wrote about this film ...

Dear Mike G.

Thanks for writing and sharing your experience in Tokyo. I do most all traveling in the Western United States and enjoy exploring and people-watching.

We do have Japanese Americans in our group and I look forward to them writing to you.

I understand that people such as yourself enjoy the film for different reasons. However, there are also Asian Americans who find the film offensive and potentially dangerous to Asian Americans. As a Chinese American, I find few opportunities in mainstream television and film to see positive portrayals of Asian Americans. More times than not, those portrayals come in the form of racial insults on radio, television, and film. It is bad enough that mainstream media portrayals of Asian Americans are overwhelmingly lackluster or negative. But to see a large number of critics ignore or dismiss the issue of stereotypes, and instead attempt to award the film "Lost In Translation" the prestigious Academy Award makes the situation intolerable.

We are about preventing the film from winning such a prestigious award and informing potential voters and audiences of our concerns. We are not trying to censor the filmmaker's artistic license nor the audiences' right to see the film. We feel we are expressing the opinions as part of an on-going dialog about racism in the United States.

It is far worse that some people refuse to acknowledge our concerns and attempt to dismiss us as being overly-sensitive. Yet, being overly-sensitive may be in many ways preferable to what just occured today. CBS News and Associated Press report that two teens were charged with beating a Chinese delivery man to death in what CBS calls a pattern of teen violence and depravity. To me, the key has always been education of the issues and preventing ignorance, and promoting understanding and tolerance.

I understand and acknowledge your concerns and I hope you do likewise. That is a positive achievement in my view.

I enjoyed reading your letter about your experiences. Thank you for sharing.

Regards,

Kai
--
http://www.lost-in-racism.org
http://www.asianmediawatch.net

I doubt if I am the only one who find the above letter full of contradictions. First the movie is called “dangerous”, and in the next paragraph Kai claims that this is not censorship. I’m sorry, but I consider anyone trying to limit my exposure to “dangerous” ideas the most pure form of censorship there is. The fact that this little group does not have the power or influence to make their goals a reality does not make their goal any less dubious.
And should I be grateful that a Chinese American who by admission predominantly travels only in West Coast America wishes to speak up for the good of Japan and Japanese Americans?
Well, as a Japanese American who lives in Tokyo and travels heavily in Asian and in the United States I am embarrassed by this ignorant stance and hereby fire AsiaMediaWatch as my representative. They have no right no speak on my behalf, as I have never ceded that right to them.
As someone who does not believe it is possible, nor the obligation of artistic media to properly educate the world on such objective terms such as “truth”, I believe in encouraging artists to explore new areas, especially those they are not born into.
Ideas are not dangerous. Freedom of thought and expression are not dangerous. Control of the media by an elite group that is pushing a political agenda? That’s dangerous.

Troy: thanks for your response. I, too, would like positive portrayals, but it would be a terrible result if this meant removing from our collection films that weren't effusively positive, or even refusing to give such films critical acclaim. Often the "positive" portrayals (e.g. Last Samuarai) feel like no progress whatsoever. You might agree, or you might not.

The absense of positive depictions does not make LIT a "negative" portrayal of Japanese culture. It does not judge, it's neutral. While it makes us laugh at the confusion that lies in the barrier between two cultures, the laughter is directed at the barrier, not the other culture.

Kai: LIT does not promote violence against Asians, nor does it foster intolerance, so your example of the Chinese delivery man seems inappropriate to me.

Here's my positive suggestion for the day: Make "No-No Boy" into a film (No-No Boy is about a Japanese American returning from an internment camp trying to find his identity in 1940s America). I think it would be a great film featuring a mostly Asian cast, with an Asian in the lead role, with characters that are far from homogenous. It probably won't be made into a film for a million years, but I think that this suggestion feels better than attacking LIT.

Surely some programs on Japanese television are as offensive and degrading of the Japanese nation as "Lost in Translation" was? (Or is that just another stereotype?)

They used to make films like this about Ireland (c.f. The Quiet Man and my own personal favorite, Disney's 'Darby O'Gill and the Little People' (http://www.epinions.com/content_80284126852 ). Americans find foreign places where things are done differently terribly funny. The problem is that most of the world is the same as America now, so there's less and less for them to laugh at. You'll get used to it after a while.

Ken, I have absolutely no problem with how the Japanese in the movie are made fun of -- a watered down treatment would have less import. But I disagree with the contention that the movie is neutral, since it intentionally portrays modern Japan in a rather superficial, slanted manner.

But that's what good movies do . . . condense and fictionalize real-life situations to their root attributes for clarity and force.

Antoin: the larger point is that this movie is the only image of modern Japanese society that Hollywood is going to manufacture for some time. More reasonable critics (like Joi's sister in her champon post) point out that this movie is something of a negative in the overall effort to increase cross-cultural understanding.

Troy, it's strange arguing with you, because I think we mostly agree, but I wanted to point out that there's a difference between 'negative' and 'superficial.' For example:

Girlfriend: "What do you think of me?"
Me: "You have nice eyes"

I've made a superficial reply to her question. She may get mad at me, telling me that she was expecting me to extol her many virtues, but the fact remains that the initial reply was a positive comment.

Many comments here feel similar. They ask the movie LIT what it thinks of Japan, and they hear a superficial reply. Knowing Japan/Asia, they get angry that LIT didn't say more about what Japan/Asia has to offer. The characters in the LIT shrug their shoulders: "Maybe when we've had more time to get to know Japan," they say. :)

I said "superficially slanted"; on the whole LIT has a superficially negative take on modern Japan (and is also superficially appreciative of traditional Japanese culture).

I wish this would just stop. The movie's view of Japanese culture was its characters' view of Japanese culture-Tokyo madness, seen through the eyes of insomniac business travelers.
The "search for peace/authenticity/truth/self/whatever" that Scarlett Johansson's character undertook was incoherent and stereotypical, as was appropriate for her character. It was an adolescent philosopher's journey, a journey taken by someone who listens to self-help tapes.
Maybe I give the movie too much credit. I don't think so. These characters exist in a vacuum that is broken every so often by Times Square Tokyo and VIP tourist trips. If there is condescension it is directed first at the culture of celebrity, and second at the two main characters. Japan is not the subject of Lost in Translation. This movie could have just as easily been about two Japanese people in New York. Or Mexico City. Or two Mexicans in Moscow.

First of all, why does everything have to be so gosh-darn PC nowadays.

Second of all, if LIT is racist, maybe it might be because I'm only ten years old and younger than everyone who commented obviously, it doesn't really show it. The film wasn't a documentary saying "Laugh at the short Japanese people in their weird clothing!" or like that. It was a film about two lonely Americans and the way they/Sofia Coppola saw Tokyo and bonded through being lonely and not knowing anything about Japan. Jeez.

And plus, it might have shown slight hints of racism (not the racism I was raised knowing however) somehow, and I slightly agree with the asianmediawatch, but there's no need or point to boycotting it or mobilizing against it so close to the Oscars.

The disconnect between the intelligent groups on this thread who think the film was racist and those who don't is interesting. I think a change of context is needed to illustrate the point. Take for instance the recent row over U.S. talk show host Conan O'Brien taking his show to Canada and having his dog puppet film little pieces making crude (many feel harmless) jokes about "the French" and "Canada being gay because of French culture" and "Canada stinking because of French hygiene."

Here in America, as the writers sat in a New York office and wrote those bits, they didn't seem racist at all -- because this kind of humor is accepted in America where much of the cultural/racial stereotyping is implicit and submerged. (I see stuff every week on Saturday Night Live that should be an outrage to many racial groups, but Americans have been mostly dulled into complacence, only able to get mad at the occasional breast flash) But removed from the American context, Conan O'Brien's jokes were viewed as racist by the Canadians. So...were the Canadians wrong?? Were they being too sensitive?? One cannot legitimately say the Canada situation and the LIT movie are different, they are very similar. They both give examples of American cultural/racial attitudes that are "implicit and submerged." I think this dynamic is what fuels many of the "what's the big deal" comments on this thread regarding LIT.

This thread reminds me of when the Fox show "Banzai" came out a few months ago. Asian groups started protesting, and many non-Asian Americans shrugged and said, "What's the big deal?" Or even worse, Americans who have been to Japan posted comments like, "Well I've been to Japan and this show is really how Japanese shows in Japan are, so I don't see what the fuss is about." Banzai was quickly cancelled...good riddance.

RIO, cheap-laugh insult comedy and fictionalized stories are two different things.

Conan's "Triumph the Insult Comic Dog" was making those horrible jokes fer chrissakes.

I put LIT's scenes more in the "observational humor" category, but YMMV of course. Superficial & "biased"? Yes, of course. Racist? Heck no.

I think the movie shows a gap between cultures and races. We were seeing this gap gap on screen, and in the theater.

We saw LIT in Germany. The following was what I observed:

Every laughed at the portraits of the modern Japanese, as there were probably no Japanese viewers.

During the scene with the water arobics, all but the heavier set lady in front of me laughed.

During the scene with the two Germans in the Sauna, no one laughed.

These may help explain the observed gap between some of the view points.

Personally, it was an emotionally conflicting story to experience, as it was a nice essay on the relationship of the two travelers on foreign land, at the expense of noticeably harsh, and likely unnecessary caricature of a race and culture.

>"Small and dark". Is it really
>racist to know that the average
>Japanese male has a better tan and
>is a couple inches shorter than
>the average American male?
>(http://www.tallpages.com/uk/index.php?pag=ukstatist.php)

Just trivia, average height of Japanese boys at the age of 17 in 2003 is 170.7 cm, so actual defference in average height to that of the U.S. (175 cm) is only 2 inches. That www.tallpages.com refers to very old data for Japanese, like 20 years ago?

http://www.mext.go.jp/b_menu/houdou/15/12/03121001/002.gif

This has been a fascinating debate and I’ve learned quite a bit from it. This post overlaps with the post I just made on the related thread at chanpon.org (for those of you who are in both places)

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 can’t tell you how much I appreciate your doing translation work even for positions you don’t necessarily agree with!

Neil: Sorry, I don’t know where you can find a copy of Japanese Story. It was released in only a few cities in the US.

Charles: I don’t disagree with your overall point but would just qualify it to say some Japanese like to be portrayed as culturally and racially distinct, some (like me) don’t. There is a healthy tradition of self-orientalizing in the Nihonjinron literature that I have problems with.

Let me start with a personal angle. My post at chanpon.org 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 just like the monks chanting mixed language verse in a Kyoto temple. 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 inherent in the “type” itself. For the most part, I agree, though I don’t necessarily 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. Maybe as Ian suggests “ethnocentric” is a less polarizing term, but I do think race plays a role in this film.

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.(Anti-academic flameguard ON) 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 have a reality to them as does the experience of being in an unfamiliar place. I don’t think Paik or Day would dispute this. Where there is dispute is about 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). 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….

American asians are pussies.

Dude, we live in asia. Virtually every country over here has had a Hollywood movie set in it that could be seen as derogatory.

The only people over here who actually protest against them are the politicians. The rest of us don't give a damn.

Get over yourselves, you American asians. And stop using us Asian asians to back your pussified rantings.

Tim

I'm with those who say (1) it's a nice little film, but not Oscar material and (2) it has more to do with exploring the cultural isolation of the characters as a metaphor for the human condition than with cheap laughs at the expense of wacky foreigners. Subtitles for the Japanese dialogue would have helped. A touch of unconsious chauvinism, maybe, but the "racist" label is way over the top.

*** CONTAINS SPOILERS ***

The main characters in "Lost In Translation" express negative attitudes towards Japanese culture and people. Such negative attitudes and prejudices directed towards an ethnic group, the Japanese, constitutes racism. I agree with Mimi that such a term is polarizing in mainstream American. I think White Americans are less compelled to acknowledge racism unless it manifests itself in the form of discrimination and violence, and only when it does not threaten their own livelihood and power base.

I've reviewed "Lost In Translation" carefully, and I found that the film contains anti-Japanese themes. The film relies heavily on Japanese stereotypes for humor throughout the entire film that I find simply disgusting. Let's start at the beginning of the film when important themes are introduced to the audience. What is one of those important themes? Japanese people and things are short and small!

In the beginning of the film, after Bob is greeted in the hotel lobby, and just before he walks away, he says "Great. Short and sweet. Very Japanese. I like that." This comment is a subtle hint to the audience that the Japanese are "short." This comment cannot be dismissed as an innocent remark or as a compliment because the theme of the short and small Japanese is soon repeated in the next scenes. Bob is clearly tired and being sarcastic. Instead, the "short" remark is a hint to the audience of what to expect next. Bob enters an elevator purposely filled with uniformly short businessmen. Also soon after, Bob takes a shower under a short shower head (how odd that a five-star hotel does not know how to cater to Westerners). So important is this theme of short and small Japanese, that it is introduced and reinforced early in the film. The idea is then later repeated throughout the film for more cheap laughs: the small shaver, the small slippers, comments made by Bob and Charlotte, etc. The heavy reliance on this theme constitutes an offensive pattern and reliance on ethnic humor.

Let's take another scene from the film where Bob and Charlotte are in a restaurant, and Bob comments on Charlotte's injured toe. First, Bob recounts his bad experience with one element of Japanese culture: a shiatsu massage; he then expresses disdain for another element of Japanese culture: they eat weird food, he is disrespectful to the native chef, and mocks the Japanese accent -- He directs his statement to the native Japanese chef, who Bob knows does not understand English, and says "See? They love black toes over in this country. This country. Someone's got to prefer black toe. Oh ... 'brack' toe. You probably hang around until someone orders it. Hey what's with the straight face?"

I ask you, when you travel to a foreign country, do you show such disregard as to insult a native by speaking in a mock accent, mocking his mannerisms, and insulting his culture's weird eating habits? Would you actually go into a Tokyo restaurant and insult the chef that way?

I submit to you that "Lost In Translation" did not have to be set in Japan and that the theme of traveling in a foreign land is not essential to the film. The film simply exploits Japanese people and culture for racial humor and commentary. Bob and Charlotte are isolated and lonely as a result of their own individual personal situations. Bob feels alone and far from his wife and family. This has nothing to do with traveling in a foreign country such as Japan. He could just as easily feel isolated on a business trip in any foreign or U.S. city. Charlotte is alone because her husband is either away at work, he does not address her emotional needs, or he engages in meaningless small talk with the ditsy Kelly and the hip-hop artist. These situations give Charlotte the sense of exclusion and isolation. As a result she gets up and walks over to Bob and later spends much time with Bob in the film.

There are just too many examples in the film where characters express negative attitudes towards the Japanese culture such as the theme of the Japanese difficulty or inability in speaking English:
"lock and lo" They're "ridiculous" "skinny and nerdy"
"LIP MY STUCKING! LIP THEM!"
A weird incompetent prostitute
strippers
Bob recalls his night out partying and singing karoake by saying "It's not fun. Just very very different."
You may say that Bob liked "that really really great music" but he was referring to American not Japanese music plus he was being sarcastic. He was exchanging forced pleasantries with his wife, and he ends with "that was a stupid idea"
You may say that Bob wants to "start eating like Japanese food." But he is referring to his desire to eat healthy and not his enjoyment of the food. Later, Charlotte recalls lunch with Bob "That was the worst lunch" and Bob's reply is "So bad. What kind of restaurant makes you cook your own food?"
The "brack toe" scene expressing disdain for shiatsu massage and weird food
"Lets not come here again cuz it will never be as much fun."
And so on ...

I ask you, does any one remember any compliments made by Bob or Charlotte about Japanese culture? As the examples above point out, what may appears to be compliment turns out to be sarcasm.

I do believe that the film does indeed express negative attitudes towards Japanese culture and people. And those attitudes are expressed by non-Japanese characters. The theme of traveling in a foreign land was not essential to the film. So, we must ask ourselves "why set the film in Japan," "how is Japanese culture portrayed," and "what are the main characterss attitudes towards Japanese culture." The film exploits Japanese culture for the purpose of racial humor and commentary, and the main characters express disdain for Japanese culture. Inserting brief scenes of the Japanese urban landscape, countryside, temples, video arcades, etc. throughout the film does not absolve the film of its anti-Japanese themes.

Sincerely,

Kai
--
http://www.lost-in-racism.org

I have the most admiration for the Japanese culture. Therefore, reading this Joi Ito's post, I could not refrain the felling that the detractors overacted a little bit here.

I'm Tom Roman (1/2 Japanese American who lived in Japan for 10 years) from Asian Mediawatch.

Campaign is almost over. From the reaction we got during the screenings, we're hoping that we made some difference. Given the fact that we came in right before the voting started (right after the nomination announced), we didn't do too bad.

According to the recent poll from "Variety" magazine (must read for Hollywood insiders) the most this movie will get Oscar for will be the Best Screenplay and that's it. Even that is in danger now since it has become the three way race between LIT, "In America" and "Finding Nemo". Best Director and Best Picture, pretty much hands down to Lord Of The Rings and Peter Jackson and for Best Actor, Sean Penn is expanding his healthy lead for the past week, also Johnny Depp is taking some votes away from Bill Murray.

So it started to look more likely that this movie will go home empty handed. Which exactly the way we wanted.

Tom

To those appalled by anti-Japanese stereotyping in LIT: aw shucks. Here in Japan, Caucasians are routinely presented on TV as greedy, aggressive clods, with huge noses and ginger wigs if it’s comedy (there was one on a prime-time show yesterday, except it was fake ginger sideburns). For a number of years a loan company had an amusing little ad in which the point was that even aliens are eligible for its finance. Guess how they portrayed the aliens? Right. Caucasians, with plastic stalks coming out of their heads.
But Caucasians are lucky compared with other Asians in Japan, who are often treated in the news media as little better than moaners and criminals. Crime headlines routinely begin by highlighting perpetrator nationality (Chinese/Korean/Iranian steals/fakes/kills ..) and the rise in foreigner crime is trumpeted without mention of the parallel rise in native crime. The demonization is fueled by senior political figures like Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro, who recently warned troops to be on their guard against potential ethnic minority rebellions in the event of a major disaster (this in a city where thousands of innocent Koreans were massacred after the 1923 earthquake, an incident that has never even been officially investigated). The result of all this? According to a recent poll, a third of Japanese do not want more foreigners here even as tourists.
But stereotyping is the tip of the iceberg. Japanese companies operate an almost blanket ban on hiring non-Japanese, except at overseas subsidiaries, where they have to. Over half of Japanese private apartment rental agents will not deal with non-Japanese (50% according to a Nikkei Weekly survey of the late 1990s, more like 80% according to an ethnic Korean acquaintance here.). Bars and bathhouses throughout the land put out signs that say No foreigners (or even specify race: a place in Shinjuku has No Chinese on the door). Perhaps some the nissei among readers here have had the character-forming experience of being told during a visit that you are not real Japanese?
Non-nissei Asian-Americans, thank your lucky stars your forefathers emigrated to the U.S. and not to Japan. Had you been born here, you would not be able to take citizenship for granted, and you would not be able to work even as a taxi driver or supermarket till girl without concealing your ethnic identity, because Asian names are not tolerated by the Japanese public. The discrimination that happens here every day would not be allowed in any western country, and the fact that there is no influential watchdog body in Japan is testimony to the indifference of the Japanese people to this issue. Despite the extraordinary kindness to temporary visitors, no developed country is fundamentally more xenophobic than Japan, and none less deserving of the sympathy of rights activists.

To those appalled by anti-Japanese stereotyping in LIT: aw shucks. Here in Japan, Caucasians are routinely presented on TV as greedy, aggressive clods, with huge noses and ginger wigs if it’s comedy (there was one on a prime-time show yesterday, except it was fake ginger sideburns). For a number of years a loan company had an amusing little ad in which the point was that even aliens are eligible for its finance. Guess how they portrayed the aliens? Right. Caucasians, with plastic stalks coming out of their heads.
But Caucasians are lucky compared with other Asians in Japan, who are often treated in the news media as little better than moaners and criminals. Crime headlines routinely begin by highlighting perpetrator nationality (Chinese/Korean/Iranian steals/fakes/kills ..) and the rise in foreigner crime is trumpeted without mention of the parallel rise in native crime. The demonization is fueled by senior political figures like Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro, who recently warned troops to be on their guard against potential ethnic minority rebellions in the event of a major disaster (this in a city where thousands of innocent Koreans were massacred after the 1923 earthquake, an incident that has never even been officially investigated). The result of all this? According to a recent poll, a third of Japanese do not want more foreigners here even as tourists.
But stereotyping is the tip of the iceberg. Japanese companies operate an almost blanket ban on hiring non-Japanese, except at overseas subsidiaries, where they have to. Over half of Japanese private apartment rental agents will not deal with non-Japanese (50% according to a Nikkei Weekly survey of the late 1990s, more like 80% according to an ethnic Korean acquaintance here.). Bars and bathhouses throughout the land put out signs that say No foreigners (or even specify race: a place in Shinjuku has No Chinese on the door). Perhaps some the nissei among readers here have had the character-forming experience of being told during a visit that you are not real Japanese?
Non-nissei Asian-Americans, thank your lucky stars your forefathers emigrated to the U.S. and not to Japan. Had you been born here, you would not be able to take citizenship for granted, and you would not be able to work even as a taxi driver or supermarket till girl without concealing your ethnic identity, because Asian names are not tolerated by the Japanese public. The discrimination that happens here every day would not be allowed in any western country, and the fact that there is no influential watchdog body in Japan is testimony to the indifference of the Japanese people to this issue. Despite the extraordinary kindness to temporary visitors, no developed country is fundamentally more xenophobic than Japan, and none less deserving of the sympathy of rights activists.

To those appalled by anti-Japanese stereotyping in LIT: aw shucks. Here in Japan, Caucasians are routinely presented on TV as greedy, aggressive clods, with huge noses and ginger wigs if it’s comedy (there was one on a prime-time show yesterday, except it was fake ginger sideburns). For a number of years a loan company had an amusing little ad in which the point was that even aliens are eligible for its finance. Guess how they portrayed the aliens? Right. Caucasians, with plastic stalks coming out of their heads.
But Caucasians are lucky compared with other Asians in Japan, who are often treated in the news media as little better than moaners and criminals. Crime headlines routinely begin by highlighting perpetrator nationality (Chinese/Korean/Iranian steals/fakes/kills ..) and the rise in foreigner crime is trumpeted without mention of the parallel rise in native crime. The demonization is fueled by senior political figures like Tokyo governor Ishihara Shintaro, who recently warned troops to be on their guard against potential ethnic minority rebellions in the event of a major disaster (this in a city where thousands of innocent Koreans were massacred after the 1923 earthquake, an incident that has never even been officially investigated). The result of all this? According to a recent poll, a third of Japanese do not want more foreigners here even as tourists.
But stereotyping is the tip of the iceberg. Japanese companies operate an almost blanket ban on hiring non-Japanese, except at overseas subsidiaries, where they have to. Over half of Japanese private apartment rental agents will not deal with non-Japanese (50% according to a Nikkei Weekly survey of the late 1990s, more like 80% according to an ethnic Korean acquaintance here.). Bars and bathhouses throughout the land put out signs that say No foreigners (or even specify race: a place in Shinjuku has No Chinese on the door). Perhaps some the nissei among readers here have had the character-forming experience of being told during a visit that you are not real Japanese?
Non-nissei Asian-Americans, thank your lucky stars your forefathers emigrated to the U.S. and not to Japan. Had you been born here, you would not be able to take citizenship for granted, and you would not be able to work even as a taxi driver or supermarket till girl without concealing your ethnic identity, because Asian names are not tolerated by the Japanese public. The discrimination that happens here every day would not be allowed in any western country, and the fact that there is no influential watchdog body in Japan is testimony to the indifference of the Japanese people to this issue. Despite the extraordinary kindness to temporary visitors, no developed country is fundamentally more xenophobic than Japan, and none less deserving of the sympathy of rights activists.

Ian raises an important point that had been overlooked in this thread. Japanese media regularly portray white Westerners as loud, silly, "high" nosed, clumsy; and arabs, other asians, and blacks as dangerous; non-Japanese generally seen as one-dimensional "Others." Japanese are portrayed as multidimensional, sophisticated, etc. This is usually taken for granted by most Japanese, not questioned.

I've never seen a forum or blog thread in Japanese that does politically correct hand-wringing and navel gazing about this nippono-centrism.

I just came across here via google though, let me tell leave a quick note here. I am Japanese living in Japan. I found many stuff (people, location and typical reaction) in Lost in translation. Western people say it is a comedy or no intention to offend. But as a Japanese, I felt pretty uncomfortable. Not intentional racism. It is just my opinion but I felt non-Japanese people made fun of our courtesy. Should we all speak English without Japanese accent? Why don't they try to say any single Japanese word? Sofia Coppola is making a big money from her clothing line "Milk Fed" in Japan. Her way of thank is pointing out its country's "funny" things to her. This movie is story about loneliness and romance. (in my word, two rich Americans afford to stay long term at most expensive hotel in Tokyo felt lonely. that's all) If the location were Hong Kong or Korea, the story might be different. But the disappointing thing is so many Japanese will pay for wathing this movie and waste small fortune on "English school" in front of the trainstation.

When I first watched the movie here in UK, months ago, I clearly remember that the production was running a prize draw to win a travel for two to Tokyo. And guess what? Even people from the Japan tourist office were eager to support it. After the movie, I was like "what the hell are they thinking? Certainly Japan doesn't come out very well; how come the Japanese aren't worried?" and I thought it was because they were smarter than us, and even bad publicity is publicity after all, and Tokyo in the movie really is a wonderful place, and I was just a European with too many nationalistic wars behind me to be cool. It turns out they just didn't see the film, after all. i don't know if it's worst the movie, with its age-old sketches on translation and "rip/lip", or this stupid argument. I would be MUCH more offended by the fact that, in The Lord Of The Rings, the good guys are all whiteys, and mercenaries and bad guys all clearly black or asian...

CRITICS, GET OVER IT! If this movie had portraid the Japanese as evil or stupid, that is worth of protest. Othewise, get some perspective. Yes, the movie has many stereo types, but it is a fish-out-of-water story, not an attack on the Japanese. Yes many of the gags, as I call them, are forced, but the essense of them is true. (My own un-inspired review is on my website.) True, a five star hotel is going to have decent showers, but I did have a sore on my head for a month before I trained myself to keep my head low in my first apartmetn in Kyoto. True its not likely that Bill's character would end up in an elevator with that many small men, but it is much more likely in Japan than in America. The fact is, though exagerated, this movie represents how visitors from America can feel, and it takes longer than this movie represents to start to seeing the "real Japan". Despite what I say next, I will say that I have met many many super cool and great Japanese people and my stereotypes don't create prejudice. However, the Japanese, as a broad generalization, tend to be as self assured of there own perfection and superiority as any other race on this planet. They believe their food is the best, their doctors are the best, their technology is the best, their fashion sense, etc. A generalization, yes, but not entire inaccurate. It is no surprise at all to me that a little light hearted and fun is being blow out of proportion... because *I'm sure* they *never* stereotype Americans or other cultures...

I do not think this movie is oscar material, but it was a wonderful love story. The backdrop of Japan made it more interesting. Sure, some of the aspects are stereotypical, but not rasist.
In fact, in some ways, the american culture was portrayed in some negative light. Like the fact that Bob's his wife sent him carpet tiles to decide which one he wanted. This was obviously poking fun at how rich americans waste money and resources in my opinion.

I am Russian and I live in Sweden. Does this mean I should get annoyed at all James Bond movies or countless others in which russians are always the bad guys, or swedish people have funny accents?

Swedish people DO have funny accents, and Russia has many problems with organised crime and probably crazy army generals. None of this is true for all russians or swedes, for example, in my case, I have a good accent and am not a criminal. Yet I do not hate James Bond movies for having evil Russians.

The world is a great place filled with different cultures, and everyone sees those cultures in different ways. The creator of this movie gave us her view.
Unless you are a dolt who believes all he sees on TV and especially in a Movie, you should make your own opinion by either researching Japan or going there. Although I am certain many of the stereotypes from the movie will be experienced by you.

Besides, most foreigners who live in Japan and have posted here, seem to agree that the movie is actually a pretty accurate portrayal of a foreigners stay in Japan (from their perspective)

And lets not forget how Japanese treat foreigners, so if Japanese start complaining about the movie, they should maybe look into their own policies. At least in other countries, people are not refused work because they are Japanese or some other nationality other then the inbred one... At least not on such a broad scale as this is done in Japan.

Oh, and although I have never been to Japan, I love the Japanese language and most of the culture that I have been exposed to. I intend to go there soon, and I find out the truth for myself.

But LIT certainly did not give me any new information about Japanese stereotypes that I did not already get from watching tones of Anime and reading diaries of foreigners staying in Japan. And certainly did not make me want to visit Japan any less, or feel any negative feelings towards the Japanese for not being able to speak good english etc.

You guys have missed the point entirely. The thing is that neither one of them wanted to be in Japan, nor did they want to learn about its culture or people.
Murray's character was there to make a quick buck and get home. Johannson's character was there simply because she had nothing better to do.
Because they had no interest in Japan or its people, all they noticed were the superficial things and the things that seemed odd to them. Even when Johannson went outside of town to sightsee, she didn't do it because she cared. She went because she was bored.
This doesn't make them bad people or racists. I'm not interested in cabinet-making. If I found myself in a cabinet-making factory for whatever reason, should I then be required to care about cabinets and learn how to make them or why the cabinet-makers do what they do? I don't think so. Does that make me a bad person or anti-cabinet-maker? I don't think so.

Maybe this is too late and no one will read it, but I must get this off my chest: I have lived in Japan for over 3 years with my Japanese boyfriend, and we both loved LIT. Here's what all Asian-Americans are forgetting- IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU! Unless you were born and raised in Japan, you have nothing to say. How completely up yourselves you must be! If they make a movie about Italy, it has nothing to do with Americans. This movie was absolutely realistic, and you wanting to barre it is a form of censorship, plain and simple. You don't like the truth, well it's not your freaking country, nor your experience as expats in a foreign land. Really, get over yourselves, and let us all speak honestly about our experiences, flattering and unflattering.

Oh, and another thing, it irritates me to see Asian Americans talk about this film, talk about asia, when most of them have never been to Japan. As a writer I realize artists create a lot of stories based primarily on personal experiences. This film was based on a white women's experience in one of the most overwhelming cities in the world. Tokyo is more overwhelming because of its energy, lack of English, kanji-you can't look them up in the dictionary like other roman-letter based languages, lack of street signs, pre-concieved notion that Tokyo is the same as the West, etc.. I've been here, I've gone through the work of learning Japanese, reading Japanese, trying to be part of everyday life like bill paying, holidays, elections, earthquakes, birthdays, bad days at work. Japan is very much part of me now because it's been my home for so long. This movie made me laugh because it was almost like a private joke between the director and me. For the people wasting money on barring the film from being awarded is quite a waste of positives things you could be doing. What things? Funding exchange trips to Japan, hold fun workshops to learn about modern Japanese culture- beyond outdated stereotypes of geishas and samurai, teach Japanese and kanji, etc... There's loads of postive things you can do aside from attacking someone's artistic work. That's not fair. This film is not a cheapshot at Japanese no matter what you think. I think you make your cause weak by attacking others, instead of personally coming up with positive solutions to your grievances. My aunt who is nissei doesn't even know as much about Japan as I do, and she doesn't even want to come to Japan for a visit. You need to work at culture, and don't have a claim to it just because it might be in your blood. I study Japanese very hard, and I was confused and lonely on a daily basis when I first came here- I had no family. However I worked very hard and overcame all of that to develop deep understanding of both myself and a new culture. So I feel people have no right to criticize something based soley on their race or ancestry. Unless you have lived through an experience, don't tell others how they should feel about their's. This was one woman's experience, get your own.

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Lost In Translation from Technical Difficulties
February 15, 2004 5:18 PM

We saw Lost in Translation tonight. It was ok. Bill Murray was very good in it. Having been to Japan and other asian countries, I saw some truths in it (distorted by the hollywood lens, of course), but I didn't see any great disrespect for japanese lik... Read More

still lost... from KAKYOU'S WORLD DOMINATION DIARY
February 16, 2004 6:10 PM

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... Read More

still lost... from KAKYOU'S WORLD DOMINATION DIARY
February 16, 2004 6:17 PM

There has been a lot of activity regarding 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" portrayals in mo... Read More

While observing the controversy over Lost in Translation , I happened upon Japanese Story which looks like an interesting movie to rent. Read More

Lost In Rejection from La tortue cynique / The cynical turtle
February 17, 2004 9:20 AM

En ce moment chez Joi Ito , un rappel de la campagne lancée par asianmediawatch.net (désolé s'ils ont du mal avec les majuscules), dont la mission proclamée est de promouvoir une image juste et équilibré des as Read More

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

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 Read More

AsianMediaWatch's list of complaints as detailed here is a case study in taking things out of context. Giovanni RIbisi's character favorably describing the band he was shooting as "skinny and nerdy" as opposed to the Keith Richards look their manager ... Read More

My move to the West Coast, in addition to all its other benefits, has also afforded me ample time to catch up on movies I missed during the last two semesters, mainly since I don't have people to hang out with. Which is fine, because Hollywood (and the... Read More

After being refused entry to the cinema with my friend Polly because her 6 month old baby was deemed in danger of corruption from a 15 certificate film, I went to see "Lost in Translation" with the hubby instead. This... Read More

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