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The fact that the Japan distributor (Toei? Toho?) has it showing only at a 300-seat indie theater in Shibuya (Cinema Rise) is the hard evidence that thid movie is not palatable for the Japanese public either in tone nor in subject matter.

I was not overly moved by the film and I did not understand how it won an Academy Award.

Jane Pinckard wrote an excellent review of this movie about a year ago.

It's been awhile since I read it, but I believe she felt that the story's Tokyo backdrop was not necessarily an essential point in the film. I thought so to, but perhaps the city served as a useful contrast to the unremarkable (yet heartfelt) emotions of the main characters. To use the author's own words,

"It takes a stranger's eye to transform the familiar and mundane into a seductive mystery."

This effect would probably be completely lost on an audience sitting in Shibuya.

I'd love to go back in time and see how well "Roman Holiday" did when it was shown in Rome. Probably not very well, I'd guess.

If you think about it, they're quite similar films.
L.I.T. is a fairly benign film that really doesn't go out of its way to provide insight into life in Tokyo, at least not outside the Grand Hyatt and a few random spots in Shinjuku, anyway.
Japan is just a backdrop. It could have easily been Paris or Moscow or Berlin.
I see the movie as Coppola's recollections of her visits here and in that, they have a certain validity. She wasn't trying to *define* the city or its people, just present a few anecdotes. And tell a pretty good love story.

Yes, there are stereotypes in the movie. There are also stereotypical people in Tokyo. All in all, only that unfortunate, contrived call girl scene was really out of place.

Why isn't "Kill Bill" getting this same criticism? ;-p

Well, I don't think it's that big a deal.

Just think -- how many Americans would go to see a Japanese movie about a Japanese couple in a similar relationship while visiting bewildering America?
...

Absolutely, Trevor.Japanese film reviews comment "love of foreigners in Tokyo" and that all. And whereever the background city is, this film is not an entertaiment foreign film shown in nationwide.

Regarding the scarce Tokyo backdrop vs. the ever-present Grand Hyatt- as Jim mentioned, this disregard of a broader look at the culture is largely due to the very personal autobiographic nature of the story. This is the same hotel that Coppola was staying in during her business trips with the fashion company she was involved with, and hence was a fitting backdrop for conveying her sheltered environment as well as an ambivalence about seeing any more of the culture due to her mental/emotional state. Furthermore, regarding the persoanl nature of the film- some of the other characters (i.e. the 'Charlie Brown' character who does the Sex Pistols karaoke act) were even playing the role of themselves. 'Charlie Brown' was a friend of Copolla during her stay there and he was basically playing himself and recreating some of their past experiences together.

This is a very personal film, and I'm not sure if Copolla's feelings/observations necessarily translate into something that makes universally great cinema. I think america fell for it largely because of Bill Murray's performance and his character interaction w/ Johansson, but I'm not convinced there is a wide audience for this sort of subtle, personal, and emotional story.

PS- I am in the US and saw the film with a handful of Japanese friends who have been living here for a few years. For what its worth, they all loved it. I think since they are also living as foreigners, they related to the clashing cultural differences & those types of jokes executed by Bill Murray - maybe these scenarios are less effective for Japanese in Japan?

lost in translation: in my opinion the movie is a nice american view of the japanese world, good enough for an oscar. that's it! a good american movie! but to be honest, my experience with japan is slightly different! i'm not surprised about the missed success in japan. i like the movie because it shows to me very well how some americans act in a different but strong culture: insecure self-confident.

I hated Lost in Translation. The film is essentially about two rich, bored, self-absorbed Americans in my view. I didn't care about these characters because I was not given any reason to care about them. There were some nice visual moments but nothing more. It's also chock full of boring cliches about Japan ... I agree with everything I read about this in Chanpon (good review guys!).

If you want to see a really amazing film about being lost in translation (and memory) in Japan rent Chris Marker's masterpiece "Sans Soleil". It's everything Sophia Coppella is incapable of (and then some). Truly sublime.

"It takes a stranger's eye to transform the familiar and mundane into a seductive mystery."

This effect would probably be completely lost on an audience sitting in Shibuya.

Even from my Japanese point of view, it's an alien enough portrait of contemporary Japan... wow it's Japan of 20 years ago?? what an incapable translator she is! and so on.

What I feel uncomfortable is Joe Average American who sees this movie may believe that THIS IS what Japan is like. Kill Bill is OK because even children can conceive that it's not real (or not?). On the contrary, as Japanese people can see LIT as an exaggerated comedy piece because they know what it's like in Japan and can understand Japanese language spoken in the movie without subtitles, there's no problem to understand goodness without mystification in this movie for Japanese audience IMHO. Japanese love hansei (self searching or examination) so much to a masochistic degree, therefore knowing honest feeling of American visiting Japan is a very refreshing experience. :-)

BTW, apparently those silly critics like to point out that this movie can happen in other locations than Japan, but I have to argue against it. From what I hear so far only in Japan those American movie stars are employed in TV commercials. In LIT it's as if only downward actors are featured in Japanese commercials, but in reality it's not. All those foreign things are mere commodity goods in Japan, ripped off of its original cultural dignity. Because of this setting, it is not mere cultural movie, but more capitalistic movie reflecting today's world and uncertainty of American mindset, in a slightly different manner from the movies made in the past.

KL - cool post. So, even with the mysterious quality intact, you felt the movie still sucked. Ouch. I wasn't a big fan myself, but I enjoyed Bill Murray.

"Kill Bill is OK because even children can conceive that it's not real."

Totally. Kill Bill is a different animal. It's Tarantino's wonderful fantasy, not an interpretation of modern Japan. Shena agrees.

Did Japanese audiences cringe when "Yuma" spoke Japanese? I thought it added to the fantasy of her being an international assasin. Anyway, I'm getting way OT. (You're gonna love volume 2!)

BAH!!! Joi, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to send you two trackback pings on this entry. I saved the wrong entry as I was juggling windows. I feel like a jerk, now. I honestly didn't mean it.

I like LIT. I could relate to the feelings of isolation in a forgien country, even the tears. I even latched on to a man in a non-sexual way because I felt safe and connected with him. Japan is just a pretty backdrop, but the feelings are universal.

Anybody see that TV drama a few years back with Tunnels' Ishibashi Takaaki, Nishimura Masahiko and Ijima Naoko? It was a love triangle between three Japanese set in New York, and the stereotypes of Americans were beyond cartoonish... lazy at work, sexually promiscuous, uncooperative, violent, always swearing. (Ok, well, actually, that describes some of my American friends quite well, but that must be a fluke...) :)
It was a truly stupid story, and setting it in New York made it even worse... at least "Lost In Translation" had a good story, beautiful cinematography, and great actors.
The funniest thing for me was, I think the character that drew the biggest outrage from politically correct people in the U.S. complaining about the film was the TV host played by Fujii Takashi... but the funny thing is, he was his normal self, and possibly even a bit more toned down than usual!
The only scenes that really bugged me was the goofy strip club scene (I think it was just too contrived...) and the hospital scene, because any time I've gone to a hospital in Japan, the doctors have gone out of their way to speak to me in English, even though my Japanese is pretty fluent.

The complaints about the movie remind me of dentists who see a movie and critique the teeth of the actors.

The movie was a good break-out vehicle for Coppola, Johannson, and even Murray. After it's initial US release, the movie was probably over-hyped a bit.

Mike B: cool post. So, even with the mysterious quality intact, you felt the movie still sucked. Ouch. I wasn't a big fan myself, but I enjoyed Bill Murray.

Thanks, but don't take me wrong, Bill Murray is an adept actor and Scarlett Johanson is a pretty actress. And I liked music/sound production of the movie very much as I wrote at my previous comment to joi's blog http://joi.ito.com/archives/2004/04/03/foreigners_and_japanese_customs.html#n019945.

In fact, even with awards it's still an arthouse movie, then even if its run in Japan is only in one of so-called mini-theaters in Shibuya, usual place for such movie, I don't think it's rejected by Japanese audience so no need to mourn for it. OTOH I wonder why they mind how Japanese people (except for Japanese American) feel about those movies with Japanese elements so much. Japanese know well what stereotypes of their culture are in circulaton in the world, and actually like to make fun of them. In other words, Kill Bill and LIT and the Last Samurai are not so different for us. They are all entertainment with many places to be nitpicked, and nitpicking is fun, isn't it? ;) It's still better than totally ignored after all.

If there's kind of movie heavily criticized in Japan, it is the movie in which a US president declares nuclear attack against aliens from outer space (can't remember the exact title)

". OTOH I wonder why they mind how Japanese people (except for Japanese American) feel about those movies with Japanese elements so much."

Good question. I think Trevor Hill raised the same kind of question earlier in this thread. Maybe it has something to do with the infamous Japanese reaction to the US miniseries Shogun. Shogun was a very extravagant production and was very popular in the States, but Japanese audiences hated it. That response highlighted the importance of cultural perspective to how a film is received. With all due respect, I don't think people here (US) care so much what Japanese audiences think as much as they like to observe their reactions. And then, there are some people who do care very much. After all, great wealth flows through Japan.

"If there's kind of movie heavily criticized in Japan, it is the movie in which a US president declares nuclear attack against aliens from outer space"

Ha, ha. :) I can certainly see how that might seem very offensive. I think you might be thinking about "Mars Attacks" or "Independence Day".

The problem I have with the film is that it is being viewed as a really good, almost great film. This is an issue because it presents Japanese as clichés. I don’t think a lot of people understand what it is like to constantly see images of a whole ethnic group as clichés in the media. If there were a lot of choices in the media related to Asians in film in the US, then Ian’s view and Brian’s view might be acceptable. But there are few choices and when a film is made about Asians, it is always has negative or superficial images. The industry presents Asians in a way that resonates with deeply held beliefs about how Asians should be viewed, not how Asians would like to perceived.

Cliches represent lazy thinking. Cliches are convenient - an easy way to get a few laughs from an audience without deeply exploring the Japanese culture. It’s pretty easy to write something about society’s stereotypes knowing that a good percentage of the country will find humor in them. Mickey Rooney is “Moon River” is a blatant example. The film would probably be considered a good film had Blake Edwards decided not to include that character. But Edwards was not a great artist who could see beyond Asian cliches.

Christopher Lehman-Haupt put it best: “The problem with clichés is not that they contain false ideas, but rather that they are superficial articulations for very good ones. They insulate us from expressing our real emotions. As Proust himself put it, we are all in the habit of ‘giving to what we feel a form of expression which differs so much from, and which we nevertheless after a little time take to be reality itself.’ This leads to the substitution of conventional feelings for real ones.”

"This is an issue because it presents Japanese as clichés."

Or it presents Japan as a non-Japanese speaker will find it. Actually the karaoke scene goes beyond that, since it incorporates Japanese people in a very realistic social setting, too.

Also, correcting an above comment, Japan is more than just a replaceable backdrop since the female character was kind of dallying with that new-age thing, and found ikebana and the Kyoto temple scene inspirational.

IMV, LiT is a good movie executed very well (you try guerilla filming a commercially successful movie in Tokyo). That: a) it was written for Bill Murray, b) the autobiographical nature of the female lead, and c) it documents early 21st century Shinjuku and Shibuya (two places I used to work) and d) presents Kyoto as I remember it, propel the movie into my personal 'great!' category, right up there with Groundhog Day.

People criticising this movie for its presentation of the Japanese really ought to direct their flames at the larger industry -- Sofia made the movie she wanted to make, and I don't think I could have made it better (even the gratuitous nudity was necessary to ensure the R rating). While it's impolite to make fun of people's "disabilities", I'm reasonably sure no Japanese actor had to fake the L/R hatsu-on issue so markedly lampooned in the movie.

I would argue that the reason that Kill Bill is not getting critique is because it's 100% genre caricature. Each section of the film is a caricature of a different genre and it's so over-the-top that there's no attempt at believability.

LiT is using stereotypes and caricaturing them without sensitivity. More problematically, if it was an attempt at the absurd, it was lost by the viewer. Take the prostitute scene. Her character is a clear caricature based on the pornographic imagery or the stereotypes of Japanese women. The problem was that it was not portrayed in a way that permitted absurdity or that was an attempt at self-referential humor. Thus, it reads as offensive, stemming from stereotypes as an opportunity for laughter. In laughing at the prostitute, we are laughing at her representation, not laughing at the absurdity of the director (as in the case with Kill Bill).

I've written a bit more at: http://www.zephoria.org/thoughts/archives/2004/04/20/caricatures_are_lost_in_translation.html

Zephoria dixit:


LiT is using stereotypes and caricaturing them without sensitivity.

Er, the Japan depicted in LiT, far from being a caricature, is a quite accurate depiction of reality, and told with superb sensitivity and mastery of the filmic language. I loved the movie, and the only element that made me squirm was the prostitute scene in the hotel room, though it is very plausible that such “professionals” catering to a foreign clientele exist.

Were I to be a nitpicking over-sensitive type looking for allegedly racist depictions, I could argue that the characters played by Murray and Johansson are stereotypical, uni-dimensional gaijins with whom a (Japanese?) public would have difficulties relating: they basically live in a parallel universe disconnected from Japanese society, don't speak the language and have at best only a superficial understanding of Japanese culture.

I agree w/ MostlyVowels and Troy -

I think the people criticizing this film are better off criticizing western media overall or other specific examples.

While stereotypes and cultural reductions exist in LIT - they do so for a purpose - not just for laughs, but to emphasize the out-of-place feeling of the main characters. The main characters are not making fun of Japan themselves in the film, rather they simply disply a mild ambivalent frustration that adds to their already burdensome emotional state. The characters themselves are too self absorbed in depression to see beyond the stereotypes (which embody the most obvious cultural differences from western eyes), and to diminsh that difference would detract from our connection with their emotional state.

This said, I also agree w/ MostlyVowels that the hotel/prostitute scene was uncalled for and did not add anything to the movie. But overall cultural criticisms that I've been hearing seem more of a knee-jerk reaction to an existing problem without really looking to deeply at this particular film.

The hotel prostitute scene may not have been totally extraneous to the story: it reinforced the L/R 発音 thing, and it did establish that Murray was a bigshot westerner respected by his corporate hosts, plus it ratcheted-up the annoyance factor for the Murray character.

Plus the physical comedy at the end of the scene was rather skillful.

I'm wondering why no Westerners are protesting about Fujii Takashi's appearance as "Matthew" in the film... that character is supposed to be a parody of a caucasian, I believe... look at that awful stereotypical blonde hair! :)

I'm wondering why no Westerners are protesting about Fujii Takashi's appearance as "Matthew" in the film... that character is supposed to be a parody of a caucasian, I believe... look at that awful stereotypical blonde hair! :)

Just saw "Lost in Translation" on satellite TV. "Lost" is a godd word for it, what a terrible movie. With such a rich culture in Japan they could have done a much better job at focusing on the positives rather than sterotyping.

Got a chance to see this a second time. I liked it the first time, but what was I thinking? Interesting how quickly opionions can change.

This movie suffers from the "emperor's new clothes" effect. A bandwagon got rolling on this film and critics were scared to seem dumber than their colleagues, so they jumped on the bandwagon. From my perspective, problems with the film included:

1. It opened with a shot of Scarlett Johansen's butt, which, though often on display in the film (Ms. Johansen went skirtless a lot), had nothing to so with the story. The movie wasn't about butts or sex. Or was it? Audiences hate ambiguity. Critics love it.

2. The attraction between Murray and Johansen didn't work. She was too young, beautiful, and vacant for him. He was too old and too smart for her. Only one thing pulled them together: the requirements of the script. Once together, there was no onscreen chemistry. So the relationship was unconvincing.

3. Murray seemed more tired than lonely or disoriented.

4. The ending was one of those unoriginal ride-off-in-the-sunset type things.

5. Few people in the real world believe Sofia Coppola is that much more talented as a director than she was as an actress.

Overall, the movie was boring... except for that opening shot.

You gentlemen and ladies are full of shit.
It is endearing that you missed the point. ( I might be missing it too (winks)..but my circumstances are a bit, neh, unorthodox?)
Who cares these days about how the Japanese *feel*, or the Americans, for that matter.
I do not agree or disagree with any of the field, the + or the -.

Yen talks

Dollar talks

Euro talks.

Not PC, Sorry (bows deeply).

I grew up in the 80's.

I make 2 million a year.

okok so this post is long dead but somehow I chanced upon it and I just wanted to add my 2 cents about mathew to the 'lost' people who have no idea. Mathew's Best Hit TV is in fact... A REAL TV SHOW! How do I know? Because I watch it every week... and I've been watching it since BEFORE the movie came out. Oh well... that was just my little bit of useless information hahaha... and for anyone who cares... Fujii Takashi (who 'plays' Mathew') got married a couple of months ago... omedetou!!

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'Lost in Translation' doesn't translate well in Japan | csmonitor.com ...the film is under attack for cultural bias, and for maximizing its humor by depicting Japanese as robotic and cartoon-like. The question is: to what degree is the film insensitive... Read More

'Lost in Translation' doesn't translate well in Japan | csmonitor.com ...the film is under attack for cultural bias, and for maximizing its humor by depicting Japanese as robotic and cartoon-like. The question is: to what degree is the film insensitive... Read More

Even more lost from scribblingwoman
April 22, 2004 4:55 AM

By way of a followup to my earlier post: according to Boing Boing, criticism of the depiction of Japanese... Read More

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