Lost in...

=%iso-8859-1?q?naguib=5Frazak?= naguib_razak at yahoo.com
Sat Apr 3 16:48:15 EST 2004

Dear Mitch,

Good, good questions!

I felt I had to include that last post-script
statement on Lost in Translation specifically because
I too was, unquestionably, Lost in Tokyo back while
shooting then, and the film too was probably born of
the same sort of strong feelings felt of Tokyo by Ms.
Coppola, I suspect. 

But I find myself unable to accept that film as either
legitimate, honest, accurate or worthwhile, let alone
good or brilliant, as many people and institutions
have done before. Furthermore, it frequently
insults/ridicules the "other", for the mere sake of
cheap laughs and cheaply-earned pathos.

Sure, it might not be about Japan at all nor should we
be so quick to lay the blame simply on so-called
"Western" myopia (as us Asians are quick to be
inclined to), but the film is still guilty of
patronizing and condescending on another culture, as
well as missing a glorious opportunity to engage in
even a little dialogue amongst cultures at odds with
each other, as a by-product of its commercial/artistic

I wouldn't mind at all if it was some sort of
Hollywood action film or comedy where one is not
expected to bring their brains to the cinema, but the
film strives to be an honest film, a genuine film, or
at least employs the manner, tone and realism of a
serious/honest film.

Too many "cultural encounter" moments in the film are
stretched to the point of being plain "unreal" for the
sake of cheap laughs or profundity. e.g. The
incomprehensibly inept interpreter during the Suntory
ad shoot (they can afford to pay for a Hollywood star,
but not a decent interpreter??). "Lip my stockings".
'Oh the tv programes there are always sooo bizarre'.
'Oh the guys read porn comics on the train all the

For me, profound is seeing how good the indian/eastern
european immigrants workers already speak japanese
without language school compared to my own 6-weeks of
paid intensive japanese. Profound is feeling hungry
regularly because you dont know how to
order/choose/buy cheap food except to go to more
expensive/safe places with English menus or the like,
but you really cannot afford it everyday. Or
ordering/mistaking the plastic display of an
Okonomiyaki for some sort of Pizza, and being unable
to stomach what you just ordered. Or being freaked out
by those bonitos quivering like worms over your
Okonomiyaki, and unable to verify what it is with the
local staff (they tell you it's fish, but damm if that
really looks like a fish!). Profound and funny, i
might add (so i reckon). and not simply because you
can't be half-assed to figure things out yourself or
pickup some japanese or carry a dictionary.

The thing is, the sort of stereotyping that happens in
Lost in Translation happens all the time towards other
Asian peoples, Africans and South Americans. Then
again, the tourist bodies of most of these countries
probably engage in similar or other stereotyping just
as bad. 

and it isn't just a West against Asian sort of thing.
a Japanese person might apply the same sort stereotype
towards a Arab person, and Malaysian might do likewise
towards the Chinese.

But films like Lost in Translation really sets the
tone for so many people out there, and misses the
chance to do something right about it. when i told my
japanese friend how screwed up and lonely i felt in
tokyo, he said even he feels the same way about living
in tokyo. there's more to the Tokyo story or the story
of loneliness than the cheap shots Ms. Coppola
indulged in. 

and a "metaphor for loneliness & isolation when
abroad" you say? well, the agonies of priviliged sorts
stuck up in the Park Hyatt feeling lonely and isolated
is not something i could really care about. the
loneliness of a Bangladeshi immigrant missing his
Basmathi rice, missing physical human contact,
slogging hard at work to earn enough money to feed his
entire extended family of 20, is genuine loneliness,
the sort of isolation that doesn't get greeted with
Bangladeshi well-wishes at the Park Hyatt reception or
rewarded with a jacuzzi bath. worst of all, we are
meant to think/respond as if it's cute or cool of Bill
Murray's character to mouth at every
oddity/idiosyncracy perceived, whereas i reckon he's
being down-right rude, obnoxious, presumptuous,
arrogant, and cheap.

having bashed the film that much, i do nevertheless
always credit the film with two rare moments of
genuine potency. that moment when Bill Murray sings
"More Than This... i know there's nothing, More than
this...". and the final wordless goodbye hug with
Scarlett. yes the sheer emptiness of life and the
sheer depth of loneliness is often indivisable and
universal to whomsoever, whether you're a cad, a hero,
a jerk or a saint.

for me, those two moments revealed powerful universal
truths with pure economy. but the rest of the film is
contrived and suspect.

if you want to know more about isolation and
loneliness, I'd rather recommend to you Pen-ek
Ranaturang's "Last Life In The Universe", about an
isolated Japanese man working in Bangkok and an
isolated Thai girl isolated in her own country. it can
afford to be funny (really, really funny), sincere,
culturally revealing, and emotionally enriching at the
same time.

> And, as outsiders, is there perhaps a
> tendency to make our own personal experiences and
> feelings about Japan--or Tokyo--somewhat exclusive
> and
> precious?  
I'm sure that happens as well. perhaps in me as well.
but that cannot discount the failings of that film
(Lost in Translation) at the same time. possessive or
not, we must never waste the opportunity to engage in
the dialogue of images and ideas across cultural
borders on an equal basis. we must never waste the
chance to be circumspect even when the material before
us satiates our consumerist tendencies.

okay, i've said far too much already. and my apologies
if this sounds like an attack back at you, i think
your thoughts/queries were all fair comment. the venom
was meant solely for the film and Ms. Coppola.

its good to get this off my chest. thanks.

take care y'all.

Naguib Razak

 --- Mitch Cullin <fpunk at yahoo.com> wrote: > Dear Mohd
Naguib Razak,
> Your documentary sounds very interesting.  Best of
> luck to you on it.  Hopefully those of us elsewhere
> will get a chance to see it.
> > p/s Lost in Translation sucks!
> I'm actually a bit curious about the disliking of
> this
> film on the KineJapan list, especially since it has
> been so highly regarded elsewhere.  What I find most
> perplexing is that I didn't find Lost in Translation
> to be about Japan at all, or, for that matter, about
> a
> white "Western" perspective of the country (as
> opposed
> to a film like "The Last Samurai").  In fact, it
> seemed to me that Tokyo was used as more of a
> backdrop
> and metaphor for loneliness & isolation when
> abroad--and, as such, the story could have pretty
> much
> taken place anywhere else.  Had it been set in Paris
> I
> wonder if the response here would be so harsh (the
> film strikes me very much as an homage to French New
> Wave cinema).  And, as outsiders, is there perhaps a
> tendency to make our own personal experiences and
> feelings about Japan--or Tokyo--somewhat exclusive
> and
> precious?  Any thoughts?
> Mitch
> =====
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> "As the movie industry becomes more like the
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> directors do."  --Don DeLillo 

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