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Lost in Translation, Tokyo

I recently re-watched “Lost in Translation” (2003) on DVD thus marking the year anniversary of its release in Japan. Watching the movie again, it reminded me of the first time I saw it in Tokyo and the Japanese reaction towards the film. The first time I saw the movie was in a small over-heated theater in Shibuya last spring. It had taken close to seven months for the movie, which had been shot entirely in Japan, to finally open in Japan.

I recently re-watched “Lost in Translation” (2003) on DVD thus marking the year anniversary of its release in Japan . Watching the movie again, it reminded me of the first time I saw it in Tokyo and the Japanese reaction towards the film. The first time I saw the movie was in a small over-heated theater in Shibuya last spring. It had taken close to seven months for the movie, which had been shot entirely in Japan, to finally open in Japan.

The over-heated theater I saw it in was packed with Japanese and boy, were they upset! At the end of the movie they began to attack the few gaijins in the theater. I bravely kicked the legs of one portly gaijin out from under him and leaped to safety as the Japanese fell upon him with their little chopsticks and tore him apart.

Actually the Japanese audience seemed to enjoy it quite a lot. I heard a lot of laughter. I don’t know why there was so much controversy over it when it was first released in the States. In time the movie became popular enough amongst Japanese that it was shown in quite a few movie theaters (that had better heating systems) throughout Japan.

Many Japanese that I talked to liked the film. There were a few things they thought were a little too much such as Bill Murray’s translator for the Suntory Whiskey commercial who translated only the barest amount of the director’s comments and often inaccurately.

“Lost in Translation” in my opinion is not “anti-Japanese” as a few people apparently think it is. It is, in my opinion, rather “anti-Tokyo” and subsequently “anti-big city.” Tokyo is a huge city even for the Japanese. Its more of a megalopolis than metropolis. One of the main complaints from many Tokyo residents is that Tokyo has very little in the way of nature. At times it can seem as though every square meter of Tokyo has been covered in concrete and a convenient store placed upon it.

The movie “Lost in Translation” epitomized the urban loneliness that affect both visitors and residents alike in Tokyo. At times Tokyo can feel like it is crushing one’s senses with all its buildings, neon lights, noises, confusion. oddness, traffic, and massive amount of people. Tokyo is definitely a city that one has to come to terms with on their own.

The main characters of the film are only in Tokyo for a week or so and much of the time they seem to spend in the hotel. The few times they venture out into Tokyo, they generally seem to have some fun such as the time they go to karaoke.

Their animosity towards Tokyo and the Japanese seems to stem more from the underlying self-loathing they have for their own lives and the lack of direction their lives have. By the end of the movie, however, we see they don’t really hate Tokyo, as Scarlett Johansson’s character jokingly suggests to Bill Murray they could start up a Jazz Band and never leave.

Overall, I thought the movie did a very good job in its portrayal of two lost souls in the urban chaos of Tokyo. Bill Murray gave a fine performance by simply not going overboard and giving us the “Bill Murray” from the movies and Saturday Night Live. He was funny in a low-key way that was very genuine. Scarlet Johansson never gave into dramatic displays of despair or soul-wrenching monologues that scream “I’d like to thank the Academy…”.

Both actors gave real and earnest performances that were stronger for their restraint. In a time where over-acting melodramatics abound in cinema, it was nice to see a movie that didn’t seem like a movie. It felt like the kind of bittersweet story that either has happened or could happen to any of us in our lives.

Now, from a foreigner living in Tokyo ‘s point of view, I thought “Lost in Translation” was quite accurate, however I have never stayed in a 5 star hotel in Japan before, had a high-priced prostitute sent to my room, or gone to any of those ritzy strip clubs depicted in the film. Had they filmed more scenes in Hub Pubs, izakayas, cheap noodle places, and sleazy meat-market dance clubs in Roppongi then I could have related more to the movie.