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Is the general Japanese audience offended by the biased and negative portrayal of their people in Sophia Coppola’s Oscar winning story?
Sophia Coppola’s second feature film, Lost in Translation, has won this year’s Academy Award for Best Screenplay, nominated for Best Actor in a Leading Role (Bill Murray), Best Director and Best Picture, snagged three Golden Globe Awards plus many, many more. Domestically, it has received rave reviews as an enchanting and cliché-breaking love story with illuminating performances by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. Following its release in
On January 31st, a grassroots Asian American organization called Asia Media Watch sponsored and launched a nationwide campaign, lost-in-racism.org, “to petition motion picture industry groups, including the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, Directors Guild of America, Screen Actors Guild, and Writers Guild of America” to vote against the film in all Oscar-nominated categories but apparently did not succeed. The organization insisted that the film “dehumanizes the Japanese people by portraying them as a collection of shallow stereotypes who are treated with disregard and disdain.” The website further justifies their dissent with selected quotes from American reviews from TV Guide (“[The] humor is too often based in stereotypical perceptions of Asians…”), The Guardian (“...but there is only one type of humour in the film that I could see: anti-Japanese racism, which is its very spine”), The National Post (“Lost in Translation expresses a distasteful racism through romantic comedy. It says, as racists often do, that foreigners, in this case Japanese, are inherently comic and stupid”), Asian American Movement Ezine (“The film relies on stale stereotypes of the Japanese for laughs… replete with racial gags that draw from the same old Hollywood stereotypes”) and Color Lines Race Wire (“The Japanese are presented not as people, but as clowns… the hilarity is rooted entirely in the ‘otherness’ of the Japanese people. We laugh at them, not with them”).
But before jumping the gun and using that potent word “racism,” the logical thing to do is delve into the mind of the director. Why Japan? Lost in Translation apparently infuses autobiographical elements and details based on Coppola’s numerous trips to Tokyo in her early and mid-20’s according to a Q&A interview with the director and her partner, Ross Katz, (posted on the movie’s official website), one of which is the sense of wondrous displacement. She makes no mention of having a Japanese “advisor” on set although 90% of the crew was Japanese, which Coppola reveals prompted real-life incidents of the crew members losing each other in translation as well as spending twice as more time on shoots due to language barriers. Furthermore, the Japanese actors in the project were actually really Japanese-speaking natives (aside from a very few bilingual translators). Taka, the photographer who directs Bob’s character during the Satori commercial shoot, really does mispronounce English names in real life and for some odd reason, Coppola wanted to capture the spontaneity of Taka and Bill Murray’s dialogue of miscommunication. Now why would she want to do that?
It appears that Coppola’s directive aim was to fully contextualize the love story revolving around the two main characters (Charlotte and Bob) who almost unwillingly travel to a city that is foreign to them in every sense of the word – the food, language, culture, humor, mannerisms and beauty. Yes, beauty – let’s not forget Coppola’s breathtaking shots of
It’s simply a waste of time to lose your minds over racist issues in Lost in Translation. If you object to Coppola’s inaccurate portrayal of Japanese culture, go watch a documentary about
JAPANESE REVIEWS OF LOST IN TRANSLATION
By Yoshio Tsuchiya
Lost in Translation, the latest film by Sophia Coppola, was nominated for four Oscars and won for Best Screenplay at the 2004 Academy Awards. Born as daughter of director/producer Francis Ford Coppola, she does not cease to show every aspect of her innovative, creative talent, such as what she showed in her first directed film The Virgin Suicides, raising our expectation towards Lost in Translation.
The story takes place in a hotel in Shinjuku, the central business district of Tokyo,
Everyone will feel loneliness and isolation from the cultural and language differences when stepping out of one’s own country. Right after graduating from college, this newly-wed wife is left in a hotel in
These themes in the film are nothing really new: miscommunication or a lack of communication and a puppy love story about two isolated and distressed people.
What really strikes the viewer is the way Coppola perceives
You may be able to say that this film simply depicts how Coppola perceives
The only thing that shines in the film is Scarlett Johansson and her sensitive acting, which reminds viewers of her recent work, Girl with a Pearl Earring.
By Yasuhisa Harada
April 16, 2004
Sophia Coppola’s youthfulness made this film possible. As Francis F. Coppola’s much loved daughter, it is the second film that Coppola, 32, directed, and her sensitivity shines in this film.
Bob (Bill Murray) is a
Everyone experiences similar situations when traveling to an unfamiliar place. Those who do not carefully observe the little nuances in everyday life may miss out on such themes. In the film, ordinary scenery of Shinjuku starts to appear more indecent and peculiar, showing sharp and accurate directing skills.
Above all, there is wonderful humor and breath-taking acting from Bill Murray. We are not so narrow-minded to criticize such a great film.
May 13, 2004
Although this is only her second work, Sophia Coppola’s film seems like something a close friend directed. Maybe it is because this film, in particular, seems very personal, reflecting what Coppola sees. Yet, it does not necessarily mean that she is merely projecting herself in the film; what happens in front of the camera and her aesthetic sense and sensitivity work in great harmony. This harmony does not disappear in a large city like
You do not have to have a personal experience to relate to the nostalgia within this film. There is something about this film that makes you long for such a “planet.”
Date Posted: 6/11/2004