Review: Films Set In Japan – Lost In Translation (2003)

This then is the moment I’ve not been looking forward to but the tenth anniversary of ‘Lost In Translation‘ seems to be a good time to give my take on a film which has caused me to have many different feelings of emotion over the last decade. The reason I’ve delayed reviewing this film is that its probably the most famous one and its also one that is loved by so many except me who thinks its just a little bit over-rated.

The Autumn of 2003 was a monumental one for me as it was when I first came to Japan and you’d think that this film coming out at the same time might lead me to have quite an affinity to it……and in some ways I do, but I still can’t get past the fact that it’s quite a dull film and nothing much really happens! There, I’ve said it and now I guess I’ll face the backlash!

For anyone who has seen my guide to the filming locations of ‘Lost In Translation you may be surprised to hear this. That particular piece has been very kind to Beyond The Movies in terms of regular hits but that’s due to the cinematography which fascinates me far more than the content of the film. Tokyo is of course the world I live in and from that aspect I quite enjoy ‘Lost In Translation‘ as a travel documentary but I’ve never really understood why its so popular elsewhere.

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So as you probably already know, washed-up film actor Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and young wife Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) are in Tokyo for different reasons. Both are lost in their marriages and lives, they’re feeling lonely, they don’t understand the language but together they share these experiences as they delve into both traditional and contemporary Japanese culture and customs. It’s their reactions in these situations that have caused the most controversy. Some people think that the characters in this film come across as spoiled, bored, rich and unsympathetic foreigners but I’m not so sure.

Of course, many people jumped on the moral high horse saying its racist and stereotyping and all the usual nonsense but there’s a reason these generalisations exist and thats because there’s an ounce of truth to them. Sure, some of the scenes afford the Japanese little dignity as the viewer is pushed into laughing at the small locals and their funny ways but that is seemingly what people want when it comes to seeing things about Japan.

I think the western world’s obsession with the whacky side of Japan’s culture gives this film the fuel for its fire with many of the scenes depicting the zaniness of what makes up such a small minor part of its society. I absolutely hated the “lip” my stockings and whacky gun-fire chase scenes which were just bizarre. On the other hand, I did actually like Harris’ appearance on the TV show ‘Matthew’s Best Hit TV‘ (yes, that show really did used to exist!)….even though I usually despise such dumbed-down juvenile TV.

The more ancient customs may be somewhat shoehorned into the film by way of ancient temples and shrines, chanting monks and ikebana but to her credit Charlotte does watch all of this without judgment which is all you can do sometimes as a ‘fish out of water’.

Anyone who has ever spent a bit of time in Tokyo will of course pick faults as is customary when films are made in foreign settings but maybe they’re missing the point as this film is about a couple of American’s who didn’t really choose to visit the Japanese capital but were instead thrown into a situation and did what many often do. The only difference here is that its captured on film and shown to the world. Sure, nothing really climactic or dramatic happens but it’s more about appreciating the atmosphere.

Ten years later, we still have no idea what Bob whispered into Charlotte’s ear at the films climax and to be honest do we really need to?! It wouldn’t make any difference but directors often like to leave audiences thinking at the end and such a scene with a vague message does exactly that. I hope it’s never revealed until the sequel comes along!

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Tokyo Fox Rating 7/10

 

Tokyo Filming Locations: Pt II – Lost In Translation

‘Lost In Translation’ came out not long after I came to Japan the first time back in 2003 and though I didn’t think too much of the actual story I quite enjoyed it simply for the fact that it was filmed in what was to become my new home. I was more surprised about how many people with no affinity to Japan thought the movie was great. I guess I am just not the arty-farty type! Director Sofia Coppola used the following locations:

* The Park Hyatt Hotel (3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku) features throughout the films 97 minute entirety and is where the characters Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johanson) stay and the 52nd floor is the ‘New York Bar’ where a fair few scenes were filmed including when they meet for the first time on 23 mins. I went up to this bar for a quick peek but didn’t stay as I knew for sure that it was expensive.

   

* Kogenji Temple is a tiny temple in Nishi-Shinjuku (11 mins 58 secs to see the same angle as below left) which Charlotte visits in the rain for a few brief moments. When I went there it wasn’t anywhere near as tranquil and spiritual as in the film where the moment was further aided by the soundtrack.

 

* Shibuya Crossing is the worlds busiest crossing and has appeared in a countless number of films and ‘Lost In Translation’ is no exception as it appears on screen after 18, 35 and 62 mins.

 

* Air is a nightclub for Tokyo hipsters in Daikanyama (2-11 Sarugaku-cho) and is where Bob, Charlotte and some Japanese friends party amid oversized balloons with a film of fireworks projected onto them after 42 mins. When I found this place there was nothing more than a door with a board outside detailing the club’s forthcoming events.

 

* Bob sings ‘More than this’ by Roxy Music at Karaoke-kan (30-8 Utagawa-cho, Shibuya-ku) and for the anoraks out there rooms 601 and 602 are the ones which feature after 46 mins.

  

* Rainbow Bridge (below) can be seen after 50 mins on what is supposedly the taxi ride home from the karaoke session but makes no sense geographically as in reality their hotel in Shinjuku is quite near to the karaoke box in Shibuya.

 

* Ichikan is a small and hard-to-find sushi restaurant at 9-5 Daikanyama-cho, Shibuya-ku and is seen on 56 mins and the chef in the film does actually work there. This is no cheap kaiten-zushi (conveyor belt sushi) restaurant but is actually of high cost. With the cheapest course being 6000 yen (45 quid) I decided to not bother going in which was a shame but there is a limit to my research on a film which I’m not that bothered about!!

 

* A.P.C. Underground clothing store at 4-27-6-B1 Jingu-mae) in Harajuku is where the strip club scene (61 mins) was filmed. By day, its one of those so-called fashionable stores where the designer trainers, t-shirts and so on are minimal (I’m talking only three t-shirts on one rail!) and given a lot of space and this is the only part of the film that was ‘faked’ as all the other locations played true in the movie.

 

* Nanzen-ji temple and Heian-jingu shrine are the two places Charlotte visits on her little trip to Kyoto. 72 mins of the film have passed when she walks over the stepping stones (below left) in Heian-jingu garden (600 yen entry) before moments later walking across the impressive shrines grounds seen below right.

           * Shabuzen is a shabu-shabu restaurant under the Creston Hotel (Kamiya-cho 10-8, Shibuya) and is where Bob and Charlotte are shocked by the idea that they actually had to cook the meat themselves which to be honest is still not something I like as when I go out to eat I don’t want to have to cook. Japanese homes are so small that entertaining guests is not so possible so they like to go out and cook the thin slices of beef and vegetables themselves. My friend Michael went for the shabu-shabu deal while I had a late change of heart and plumped for the unagi-don (grilled eel in a sweet sauce on a bed of rice in a bowl) set instead which was OK but probably not worth the extra cost which I had to pay for the privelege for eating in surroundings far more sophisticated than I am used to. It appears on screen after 81 mins.