April 18, 2004

DIMINUTIVE?:

'Lost in Translation' doesn't translate well in Japan: The Japanese are frowning upon the Oscar-winning film's depiction of them. (Robert Marquand, 4/19/04, CS Monitor)

Several stereotypes seem designed to bring Western yuks. Murray is shot in a hotel elevator looking like a jet-lagged big bird amid dwarf Japanese businessmen. There is a shower head Murray can't bend low enough for. Some comic dialogue takes advantage of Japanese difficulty in pronouncing L's and Rs. A Japanese director comically asks for more "intensity" from a confused Murray, who is in town to lend his fading fame to a whisky commercial. Squads of overly polite Tokyo attendants and hosts seem unable to connect with any of the American characters.

One famous critic, Osugi, said, "The core story is cute and not bad; however, the depiction of Japanese people is terrible!"

The Australian chef at the Hyatt opined that "Lost in Translation" captures what Tokyo is like to first time visitors. "But now that I've lived here for two years, I think it isn't fair to Japanese."

Actor Bill Murray did single-handedly break a set of cultural barriers in his own unorthodox style at a very stressful point in the hotel shoot, according to Midori Ochiai, a hotel official. She was charged with enforcing the Hyatt's strict house rules, which included filming times only between midnight and 6 am.

"I would tell them, please go now, don't do this, don't do that. I was very much like a schoolteacher," the diminutive Ms. Ochiai says.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 18, 2004 6:09 PM
Comments

It's fascinating watching recent Hollywood comedies bump up against the left's rampant political correctness. First Barbershop with its cracks about Jesse Jackson--which Jackson himself tried to pressure MGM to cut out. And now the cry that Lost In Translation is racist because of its gentle humor about the Japanese.

Add to that the little tempest in a tea cup that Lucas had with Jar Jar and other characters in his latest Star Wars sequels, and you really get the sense that the left's obsession with PC, victimhood and pointing fingers at anyone to the right of Michael Moore makes it bent on destroying itself--or at the very least, watering down humor to the point of bland pabulum.

All of which not only makes Orrin's point that all humor is conservative--it illustrates that increasingly, the audience that still enjoys it has to be seated more than a little in from the left side of the aisle as well.

Posted by: Ed Driscoll at April 18, 2004 6:36 PM

I've always wondered what foreign cultures depicted in American movies think of those movies. The one I would really like to know is: What did the Egyptians think of the movie "Stargate"? I did a Google search one time but came up dry.

Posted by: Pete at April 18, 2004 6:42 PM

It's amusing, because, yes, the Japanese are presented as stereotypes through the eyes of Bill Murray's character... but at the same time you realize that Bill Murray's character (and the others) are stereotypes themselves, of the (not necessarily, but often) American tourist or celebrity who goes to a foreign country without knowing any of the language or anything about it.

Murray's character is trying to escape his life and behaving irresponsibly, so he doesn't fit there. He is the truly absurd one.

Posted by: John Thacker at April 18, 2004 8:52 PM

John:

Actually the best review I read of the movie talked about how the only moment in which any two human beings in the film have anything like a healthy connection to one another is when Murray takes her foot in his hand as they lay in bed. Japan seemed very much a metaphor for the kind of atomization that Murray and Johansen represent.

Posted by: oj at April 18, 2004 8:58 PM

Orrin--

What I don't understand are the number of reviewers and viewers who fail to understand how flawed Murray and Johansen's characters are in the movie. Yes, Japan is weird and they don't fit in-- but these are people who don't fit in in their own lives. From Murray's conversations with his wife on the phone, and from Johansen's with her boyfriend, it's clear that they wouldn't fit in anywhere.

It's an indictment of these two individuals, not Japan. We're seeing Japan through the eyes of disturbed and atomized individuals.

If one reads The Bell Jar, one doesn't read it as saying that America, or Massachusetts, or college, or NYC, or magazines are insane. You read it as Sylvia Plath being depressed, and that her lens of depression infects how she views things.

Posted by: John Thacker at April 18, 2004 10:31 PM

John:

Are you saying that what we see shouln't be trusted? Remember when Murray gets stuck on the exercise equipment and there is no human being anywhere nearby to help him? Everything is automated because there are no people to do the jobs. You end up with no human contact or connections.

Posted by: oj at April 18, 2004 11:00 PM

The movie was an acting class exercise that would not have been released if Sophia's last name was Jones. Oh yes and Phantom Menace just sucked.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at April 19, 2004 3:19 AM

Sheesh. By this standard, Tampopo is racist, too. Too bad about Itami being Japanese and all that...

Posted by: Kirk Parker at April 19, 2004 3:36 AM

Robert,

agree wholeheartedely, Lost in Translation was incredibly overrated. Coppola has yet to do anything worthwhile. She will be nowhere in a few years when the reality catches up to her hype.

The movie was stereotyped, for sure, but more to the point, Johansen was a boring absorbed actress, Murray was dry (as much as I like him) and most importantly the scenes, one after another were ineffective and boring. I found myself asking halfway through, is this it, is this it?

Coppola's point about the automation of life and lonliness, yeah ok, great, but those point should be part of a much greater picture, not the actual plotlines.

Posted by: neil at April 19, 2004 7:09 AM

The movie was, unfortunately, way overhyped. That's a pity because it is a good little flick, and Coppola deserves credit for it. Unfortunately, because of the excess hype, her next film will be burdened with unfairly high expectations.

The poster who commented that it's the main characters who are criticized most severely is spot on. Japanese society isn't so much criticized (though it is lampooned) as it used as a backdrop to show how empty the main characters are by forcing them to be alone with themselves.

As for nepotism in Hollywood, well, that's an old story. I'd say anywhere from 20-30% of the people working in the American film industry are there because of family connections. Think Michael Douglas, the Huston family, Kate Hudson, Alan Ladd, Jr., etc. Coppola is neither the first to benefit from a family connection, nor will she be the last. At least she used her access to make at least one enjoyable film.

Posted by: Derek Copold at April 19, 2004 12:44 PM
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