Mar 252012


Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film Lost In Translation is a masterpiece of mood, ambiance, angst and entertainment. The film has a captivating aura rarely captured in 2D. Indeed, it is one of my favourite films. I have even ‘recruited’ others to the Coppola-written and directed movie that Bill Murray calls the best he has appeared in.
However, much to many people’s chagrin, the film seems to highlight situations that infer racism. Whether intended or not, and it is difficult to imagine how so many stereotypical references could be depicted merely coincidentally, they exist and exist in droves. Indeed, one self-appointed special interest group, called Asian American Journalists Association, AAJA MediaWatch, upon release tried to scuttle the film’s chances at Oscar time.
Lost In Translation is an emotional force, but it tugs at Japanese, and indeed East Asian, stereotypes. The film was shot in Japan, yet extended sequences with Japanese characters are scarce. This is due to how the film speaks to isolation and alienation. Where Japanese men and women are represented the scene is short, mocking, fleeting or secondary. Yet, despite all this one still comes away with an unbridled respect for the people and the country. Try as it might, the film cannot stamp indifference on the country. There is so much amazement and wonder in the characters’ peripheral vision in Japan, if only they would raise their heads to see; alas, they have no interest in the wonders of the country in which they find themselves. It is them that is at fault, however; not Japan.

Much of the lampooning is indeed the Japanese’ own fault. They have adapted and adopted so much westernization – after all, the movie is not lying that the Japanese import Western stars to do their commercials or have Western musicians performing. Murray has explained to The Observer that he was to some degree inspired by actual posters in Tokyo of Harrison Ford drinking Asahi beer – that the rest is consigned to a tourist brochure, but let’s nonetheless face the film’s stereotypical caricatures. Admittedly, looked at another way, one caricature is of Americans ignorant and confused amidst a foreign culture.
Once again, instead of writing a straightforward review of a movie, I have decided to do something different and watched the film; this time with an eye on listing the said situations.

  • Bob Harris conspicuously towers above every Japanese man in the elevator.
  • In the hotel bar the Japanese uniformly look uninteresting and lifeless as they smoke and drink.
  • The shower head in Bob’s room is too low for him even at its highest level. This is a high-end hotel in Central Tokyo, mind you.
  • The commercial director is unreasonable, demanding and angry. Contrast that with the docile female translator.
  • The subway commuter is openly looking at hentai as Charlotte watches on.
  • At the bar when Charlie Brown introduces Bob as “from United States” everyone exclaims in awe “woooooo!”
  • The Japanese are incapable of pronouncing their ‘r’s. ‘Rock & roll’ is ‘lock & loll,” while “rip” is “lip” and “rat pack” is pronounced “lat pack.”
  • The employer sends a Japanese prostitute to serve Bob who is unamused and uninterested. Bob makes fun of her.
  • Everything on TV is ridiculous. Murray even recoils at the talk show he is on when he catches it later. Incidentally, he originally derided the idea of appearing in it.
  • There are four or five people attending to Bob at every turn. He takes his time and is unappreciative. He eludes them.
  • Bob often makes fun of the Japanese. When the photographer asks for a Roger Moore pose, Bob declares that Sean Connery was better and then becomes sarcastic, “you didn’t get Sean Connery over here?” Some might remember that Sean Connery’s You Only Live Twice was partly filmed, and transpires, in Tokyo, Japan.
  • Suntory Corporation has paid $2 million to have an American promote a Japanese product to the domestic market. Interestingly, famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa had worked for and directed commercials for Suntory Whiskey during the period he was working on the film Kagemusha, a film whose co-executive producer was Francis Ford Coppola.
  • Men of all ilks are in an arcade playing video games. There is even a man in a suit in one.
  • The hotel instructor teaching water aerobics to the Japanese ladies is a Westerner.
  • Bob implies that Japan is a prison. He tells Charlotte that he is organizing a prison break to get out of the hotel, city and country.
  • At the sushi bar Bob suggests the chef would like Charlotte’s blackened toe (“brack toe”) and adds “in this country someone will order it.”
  • At a nabemono (hot pot) restaurant Charlotte cannot tell the difference between the dishes and thinks they all look the same. “I can’t tell the difference,” she observes!





  4 Responses to “Racism In Film: Lost In Translation Interpretation”

  1. I consider, that you are mistaken. Let’s discuss. Write to me in my email, we will talk.

  2. Good replies in comments of this post with firm arguments that describing everything concerning the criticism of this film.

  3. What a load of crap.

  4. Thsi is the most ludicrous thing ive ever heard. The film is called “lost in translation” a proverbial “fish out of water” tale. These characters have very bad relationships with the people in their lives; Bill Murray with his wife and kids, he calls them, then says it was a bad idea. Scarlett with her new husband, they cannot seem to connect to one another at any point in the film.

    Japan is used as an analogy for alienation. Their “prison” is themselves and everything else is dramatized to support that. I wouldn’t call the film racist by any means. The scenes you cite have a completely reasonable explanation within the context of the story. Bill is quite respectful of his entourage for the entire film. The only time he eludes them is when he is thinking about never seeing Scarlett ever again at the end of the film. The Director that is making the commercial with bill; The condesending way he directs Bill is very indicitive of an “American” director this to me is Hollywood making fun of itself. When they are in the sushi place and Bill says someone will order “brack toe” was a way of making Scarletts character feel better and also because its true that the japanese cuisine can be quite different than an american pallette thats true of any sushi place here in LA even. It is also true that Japan has a huge culture of playing video games, and yes adults play too just like here in america. The prostitute? Is it possible that he just didnt want to have sex with her? This character was not a man who cheats on his wife, he and Scarlett only even kissed, The only thing that scene pointed out was the Japanese generosity going a bit overboard. The rest of the list I cant even see why you think it is racist. And what do you mean they look lifeless? The city is portrayed as a hustling and bustling city. There are nightclubs and restaurants filled with interesting characters that they interact with, Scarletts character even has japanese friends. Japan is portrayed as a city of thoughtful and reserved hard working people, The entourage, the concierge, the sushi chefs, the people on the train, have a job to do at do it well, the people all mind their own business and keep to themselves as they not uncommonly known to do over there. The 2 million dollars? The Swimming instructor? The TV? Im not getting this at all. Its funny to me because this movie is alot of metaphor in a way. Now when a movie has a scene that is supposed to have a deeper meaning to it, They literally must shoot the metaphor as straightly as possible and hope that the audience sees that the movie is more than the sum of its parts. Now when an audience sees these scenes play out they make the mistake of taking them literally and not figuratively and that can be confusing to an audience and they loose a bit of the tone of the film. Remember the film is called “Lost in Translation” it seems as if some of the translation got lost by people taking some of the scenes at face value

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>