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Thursday · September 18 2003

Lost in Translation presents two American characters who share time, space, and a resonant lonliness in Tokyo. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a has-been 70s movie star in Japan to collect a large paycheck for filming Japanese whisky commercials that he cannot understand. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is a young, smart, sarcastic woman tagging along with her nerdy, hyperactive, rock band photographer husband (Giovani Ribisi). Bob is tired from the life he has lead and Charlotte is tired of not knowing where her life is supposed to go.

When I watched Bob or Charlotte wander the city, they stood out like 3-D cutouts against the utterly alien Japanese backdrop. The foreign setting serves two functions. Most obviously, it provides some very funny comedy of manners moments (Bob's masseuse & the whisky commercial director). More importantly, Bob and Charlotte are in a world where they cannot curl up, blend in and hide. Japan provides no familiar comforts and everything is strange and incomprehensible; it may as well be the Moon. Because of this personal and cultural isolation, they are more willing to engage a stranger: each other.

Lost in Translation doesn't force feed relationship pseudo-philosophy or contrived love scenes between partners with 30 years separating them. We watch Bob and Charlotte's relationship develop rather than listen to what they think it is. Even in the movie's final moments, we're not privy to what Bob whispers to Charlotte. We're left to decide for ourselves. If the film were a book, I would choose it as a book club selection, and open the discussion with "What did Bob say to Charlotte at the end?". I can easily think of 4 or 5 different things he could have said, all possible and real.

Addendum: The soundtrack to Lost in Translation is amazing. The songs and score pieces are absolutely perfect for the mood of the film. "Sometimes" by My Bloody Valentine and "Just Like Honey" by The Jesus and Mary Chain are both played in full and stayed with me the whole drive home. I read that there is a hidden track on the soundtrack with Bill Murray performing the karaoke version of "More Than This" by Roxy Music that he does in the movie. Strangely, I need to hear that again.

Archived: Watch » September 2003
What you had to say:
September 18 2003

I heard that Sofia Coppola, somehow, managed to make Tokyo look "dark" -- which seems peculiar because of Tokyo's many pulsating neon lights -- but that it was necessary for the type of film it is. Cool.

September 18 2003

I didn't think Tokyo looked dark. The neon signs were everywhere. Stacy was laughing in the beginning of the movie because Bob's experiences jetlagging into Japan were so much like her own when she visited.

I've read that some people feel the movie is xenophobic and makes too many jokes about the Japanese. All I can say is give me a friggin break. I have nothing else to say on that, because that viewpoint just seems too idiotic to me to consider further.

September 18 2003

I will always remember arriving in Tokyo being so tired surrounded by neon lights for miles. The hotel bar had a similar look to the one in the movie. And there were arcades everywhere! You really did have to point to order food and you were never sure what you just ordered.

Kyoto was very pretty even though I saw most of it at night. It was very peaceful walking through the shrines and having geisha pass you on the street.

September 19 2003

I could feel at the time
There was no way of knowing
Fallen leaves in the night
Who can say where they´re blowing
As free as the wind
And hopefully learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning
More than this - there is nothing
More than this - tell me one thing
More than this - there is nothing
It was fun for a while
There was no way of knowing
Like dream in the night
Who can say where we´re going
No care in the world
Maybe i´m learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning
More than this - there is nothing
More than this - tell me one thing
More than this - there is nothing

September 19 2003

I hope you're gonna sing it for me too, HB.

December 12 2003

damn, am i being impatient? the "hidden track" must be poppin' up long after track 15. I really liked this film.

also, Sofia Coppola is smokin'.
Not that it matters.

December 12 2003

If I remember right, Murray's hidden track plays after about 11 minutes of blank space on the final track.

January 07 2004

I can't get more than this out of my head- does anyone know anywhere online where I can listen to the roxy music version

February 06 2004

Can ANYONE help me out in my desperate attempts to track down the artist/title of that song that was played during the part of the movie where they go to the strip club? It was some provacative off-beat song that i oddly enough cannot get out of my head. If anyone knows about it,please, for god's sake...let me know.

February 07 2004

yes the artist who sings it is named peaches and the song is called fuck the pain away.

February 18 2004

What DOES Bob say to Charlotte?

April 14 2004

when does bob say what to charlotte, bren conroy?

April 24 2004

What Bren is asking about is a scene at the end.
Bob asks the driver stop the car while on the way to the airport because he sees Charlotte from the back walking thru a crowd. (always seems to be a crowd going on in this movie). Then Bob runs to Charlotte, they hug, he whispers something in her ear, they kiss and he goes back to the car to leave Tokyo. Whatever he says to her must be good judging from the expressions on their faces.
What do you think it was?

May 01 2004

I've been trying to find that out myself. It's been driving me nuts since I saw it at the cinema - and even with the DVD turned up as loud as possible, it's too much of a mumble. I'd like to think it's the address of a sushi bar they can meet at, back in the USA... Please e-mail me if someone finds out/knows! I'll do the same...

May 04 2004

Lost in Translation -- IMDb Interviews Sofia Coppola and Scarlett Johannson

Sofia Coppola is every bit as comely as that New York Magazine cover made her look. She does not look all that much like this, which she must have approved but God knows why; it looks like a page from a Hugo Boss ad portfolio. She's attractive, reserved but not shy, and approachable. Rumors of her stand-offish or surly behavior must have been started by bores.

Scarlett Johannson looks a lot like this, though her hair is spiky, and the color of Pipi Longstocking's hair, if Pipi Longstocking was a blonde. When I meet her she is carrying a "Hello Kitty" pillow around with her.

They're both at the Toronto Film Festival to promote Lost in Translation, Coppola's lovely follow up to the equally lovely, though more morose The Virgin Suicides. Lost, which was shot last November (02) in 27 days, also stars Bill Murray who really should be recognized for his performance as Bob Harris, a former action star filming a whiskey ad in Japan. Johannson plays Charlotte, the young wife of a rock photographer who has been abandoned in her hotel while he goes off on a photo shoot. The film chronicles their tentative romantic/platonic relationship. One thing that the film doesn't deal with is jet lag, something obviously affecting both star and director. They both look wiped out. "I just want to go home," says Johannson, not as a complaint, but as a solid statement of fact. Coppola is asked what the inspiration was for Translation:

Coppola: I spent a bunch of time in Japan after college. Someone asked me to help produce a fashion show, and I was dabbling in different things; I was doing some photo stuff. I loved going there. But there's a sense of dislocation there; plus you're jet-lagged. You can't read the signs or understand the language. But there's an energy there and it's constantly changing. I'll be, like, "Remember that great little bar" and they'll say, like, "Oh, it's not there anymore." It's really great to know people that live there because I don't know how you would find anything. There's no street names.

IMDb: What was the significance of Charlotte's trip to Kyoto and the tying of the paper...?

Johannson: It's a tree you tie your wishes on. And once you tie them on, they come true.

IMDb: Was there anything you were supposed to be tying on there?

Johannson: I made my own wish. We didn't talk about it. But I didn't actually write anything down. I was too busy moving to the next scene, while we lost the daylight. [sarcastically] It's a very romantic job.

IMDb: Who picked the karaoke songs that they sing?

Coppola: My friend Brian Reitzell, the music supervisor I worked with on The Virgin Suicides, we worked together on the music. We kept going back and forth on what music we should use for Bill and then he suggested "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?" With "More Than This" somehow Bill and I were talking about Roxy Music and how we both loved that album "Avalon," and how we'd both bought a bunch of copies. You know those CDs that you lose and then you buy? We were waiting around before we were shooting and those places have all those karaoke booth rooms; they were like the dressing rooms while the actors were waiting and I went in to check on Bill, to see how he was doing. I looked on the karaoke machine in his room to see if they had "More Than This" and they did and I asked him [she puts on a pleading face] "Oh, will you please sing me "More Than This?" And he sang it for me and it was so sweet and touching. I thought "We have to have this in the movie" and luckily we got permission. He said it was hard to sing, and there was a lot of sake involved.

IMDb: Can you give some context to the first shot [which is one of Johannson's rump in pink undies]?

Coppola: The title shot? I can't think of a lot of thoughts that went behind it. I liked the hint of her femininity. I like the title shot of Lolita where it's just a foot.

IMDb: Can you describe your process for approaching your projects?

Coppola: It's different each time but I like to do things that you have some personal connection to, whatever's on your mind at the time. I usually don't know until afterward. At the time, it's not always so apparent that you're going in a certain direction. I still don't feel like I know exactly what I'm doing. I watched L' Avventura before I shot this, to kind of get a feel for something that was observant and also meandering.

[Her phone rings. She doesn't look at the number. She turns it off. ]

IMDb: Why the pink wig?

Johannson: Sofia's obsessed with the pink wig. She thinks I should dye my hair pink. It said "pink wig" in the script. It also said, "shear pink underwear" in the script. She likes me in pink for some reason. She must think it's very girly.

IMDb: What was the last shot that you had to edit out for time constrainsts?

Coppola: Oh, there was definitely stuff that we cut out. But now, with DVDs, it's not as hard; it's not gone forever.

Johannson: There was one scene that I was disappointed didn't make it. It was a scene with John that Sofia cut down to a very short thing. My character is lying on the bed. It's almost that Adaptation shot. And Charlotte asks John, "Am I shallow?" He says, "What?" and I repeat it, "Am I shallow?" and he says, "No, you're not shallow." I thought that line was actually important. I think it comes down to her wondering, "Is it me? Am I so self-absorbed that I'm freaking myself out."

IMDb: Whose handwriting was Lydia's? [Bob Harris's wife in the film.]

Coppola: That was our DP, Lance Accord's wife. Her [Lydia's] voice was our costume designer Nancy Steiner. We were going to get an actress, but they had such a rapport.

IMDb: Can you discuss the scene in the hospital with the little old woman?

Coppola: It was a little old man, an ancient Japanese old man. My friend found that guy at a chess club. It was all improvised. I figured if you just put them together and asked Bill to try to talk to him that something interesting would come up.

IMDb: What was in the highball glass that Bill was drinking?

Coppola: Probably ice tea. My dad, I've never seen it, but I've seen a still, did a Santori commercial with Akira Kurosawa. They were both in it, holding whiskey. That's where the idea for the Santori came from; I wanted it to be a real product. I'm still trying to find that commercial.

IMDb: Can you talk about the brief shot of Bill playing golf?

Coppola: He was really proud of that. He had a swagger after that shot. He was proud of that. That was on the first take. I just wanted a moment--the city is so crazy--a quiet moment in nature.

IMDb: The final kiss. Was that in the script?

Coppola: I can't remember. I know they embrace.

Johannson: It was never in the script.

IMDb: Was that improvised at the last moment?

Johannson: Yeah.

IMDb: So, that whole scene where Bob gets back out of the cab...

Johannson: It was written that he finds her; they embrace. That was it. She says something to the effect of, "I'll miss you."

Coppola: I think I told Bill to kiss her without her knowing it. You get such a different reaction when it's unscripted. It's more honest.

IMDb: What does he whisper to her at the end?

Coppola: There was something specific, there was dialogue, but I liked it better that it was just between the two of them.

IMDb: And you're not going to say what it is, are you?

She shakes her head in a sweet, almost school-girlish way. Coppola has a certain feminine mystique about her that even the gorgeous Johannson can't approach; her movies are suffused with it, and Lost in Translation is a more formal coming out party; a new director is in our midst.


The wonderful epilogue of Lost in Translation, when Bob and Charlotte meet in the Tokyo streets? "The kiss wasn't scripted," Johannson said. And what about the whisper, when Bob leans and says something in Charlotte's ear that seems to make her giddy. What did he say?

"The whisper wasn't scripted," Johansson said, and really laughed. "You are the first person to ask me, and I'll never tell what he said!"

May 06 2004

At another site, this link was posted to help all of us obsessing about what Bob whispered to Charlotte in the last scene.

Hear here: http://members.optusnet.com.au/bruisedchickpea/lit.wav


What I heard: ....on the way back, tell him the truth, okay? (Charlotte) Okay.

I prefer Bob telling her she was special, and to write about it (their experience).

© 2003 Jason Keglovitz