Use of Japan as backdrop

Jonathan Minton ajxjwm
Sat Apr 10 06:15:31 EDT 2004

My interpretation was that Japan was chosen, and represented the way that it was, so as to provide a common experience to both of the main characters - that of being alienated - which drew them together. 
I think, in this respect, the 'race' card was employed as a catalyst for the drawing together of the two main characters - but really in a 'relative' (us/them) rather than 'absolute' (American/Japanese) sense... I think it was used to emphasise the alienation of the two leads from everything around them, and thus make the magnetism between them seem more inevitable and 'natural', rather than convenient and forced.
In a way, I think the idea of the 'big Japanese city' was employed as a vehicle for exaggerating and delivering the 'big city' concept in general - the incessant, sleepless, tireless, impersonal qualities that the American 'big city' has come to represent through countless films, and the feelings of malaise and negativity they draw out in people's inner 'non-conformist'.

'Japan', I think, was used to represent something both very 'un-American', and something 'super-American'.

The music, I think, was perfect for presenting the kind of restless, synthetic, and aesthetically both beautiful and terrifying, ambience of the whole film.


>>> naguib_razak at 04/10/04 8:09 AM >>>
M Arnold wrote ....

> In Lost in Translation, perhaps the "reality" isn't
> fancy Shinjuku hotel life but rather nostalgia for 
> the American 1980s--Bill Murray, MTV generation "new

> wave" rock bands (Roxy Music, Jesus and Mary Chain, 
> My Bloody Valentine), and stereotypes about Bubble- 
> era Japan. 

Well, you've made some very interesting points with
regards to the 'positioning' of Ms. Coppola's film,
and the narrow/specific cultural viewpoint through
which she accesses her themes. Perhaps a few of us
have been 'reading' it wrong, with all our own
preoccupation with 'interpretations of Japanese

I myself thought it was particularly curious that the
soundtrack was mostly made up of music that seem (at
least to my limited musical knowledge) to have little
relevance with Japan, even though I believe their
musical equivalence do exist in the japanese
commercial/indie pop/rock scene. i mean i half
expected to hear Shonen Knife or Tommy February 6 or
Glay or sumthing.

what did others think of the choice of songs in the

 --- M Arnold <ma_iku at> wrote: > Apo

logies in advance for a long message. . .
> I think I agree with both Roland and Mitch.
> Subtitles can detract from the
> visual composition of a film, but I'm uncomfortable
> assuming that talented
> filmmakers communicate more through picture than
> dialogue, that viewers
> simply or naturally understand what they see, or
> that the viewers don't need
> the dialogue (or audio if it's a sound film) to
> appreciate or understand the
> "picture." (I know this isn't what Roland was
> suggesting to begin with.)
> Dialogue and narration--and the soundtrack
> itself--are often crucial
> elements in films (although that's not an absolute).
> I don't think we can
> necessarily treat subtitles as a separate entity
> either. Of course sometimes
> it can be hard to understand all of the dialogue
> even when you are fluent in
> a language, but without translation I think it would
> be difficult, to say
> the least, to appreciate a "movie" with dialogue or
> narration targeted for
> speakers of a language you don't understand.
> While I'm at it, this discussion reminds me of four
> films: 1) Jarman's
> "Blue," which I saw on video in Tokyo with Japanese
> subtitles 2) the loud,
> subtitled bar scene in Lynch's "Fire Walk with Me"
> (which I thought was much
> noisier in the theater than on the DVD) 3) Kill Bill
> 1, and that film's
> interesting attempt to make the different
> nationalities speak in the "wrong"
> languages and through subtitles and 4 ) Lost in
> Translation, which is full
> of "jokes" that relied on the problematic notion
> that the audience
> understands the Americans more or less but can't
> figure out what the heck
> the Japanese characters are saying and doing without
> translation (linguistic
> or cultural).
> Speaking of which, I wrote a message for the recent
> Lost in Translation
> thread but forgot to send it out. Here it is:
> "The mushrooming discourse on Japan's cultural cool
> in U.S. media (something
> I can't help but read along side current
> international issues and earlier
> American fantasies of "Japanese culture") has kept
> me thinking about Lost in
> Translation since we last discussed it here.
> Although I agree that a story
> about lonely foreigners doesn't have to be about
> Japan, I think it's crucial
> that this particular film is in fact set in Japan
> and framed through the
> eyes of wealthy, white Americans (both of whom are
> connected to the
> image-making business, incidentally). And it still
> fascinates me that so
> many of the reviews I've read (especially the
> positive ones) claim to
> identify with that imaginary experience. Out of
> curiosity I watched The
> Virgin Suicides recently and my strongest feeling
> was that the overdone,
> sparkly yellow and pink-ish flavor of the costumes,
> mise-en-scene and
> photography looked just like what I see in the
> display windows of Urban
> Outfitters. (Someone told me the novel was actually
> very sharp and
> satirical. Is that true?) Here, American adolescence
> in the 1970s becomes
> fashion. In Lost in Translation, perhaps the
> "reality" isn't fancy Shinjuku
> hotel life but rather nostalgia for the American
> 1980s--Bill
> Murray, MTV generation "new wave" rock bands (Roxy
> Music, Jesus and Mary
> Chain, My Bloody Valentine), and stereotypes about
> Bubble-era Japan. If
> nothing else, movies with Coppola's name on them
> seem to be good at
> capturing a certain feeling [-tone]. Incidentally
> the average review rating
> for Lost in Translation at has definitely
> dropped over the last
> few months."
> Now back to subtitles. I watched a lot of
> unsubtitled films when I was first
> learning Japanese, but my goal then (as now) was to
> understand what the
> characters were saying, not to see the picture at
> the expense of the script.
> I still enjoy watching unsubtitled films in
> languages I don't understand,
> but I don't see how I could comment on a film's
> story if I didn't understand
> the dialogue. . .
> A few retrospectives in Japan in recent years have
> allowed me to see a lot
> of the movies I wanted to watch on the big screen
> (films by Suzuki Seijun,
> Masumura Yasuzo, Ogawa Shinsuke, Wakamatsu and
> Adachi, even the PFLP film!).
> Eureka was incredible in the theater, with and
> without subtitles.
> Suzuki's Zigeunerweisen was fantastic as well. Much
> of my enjoyment then was
> the way the odd sound mix echoed through the
> cavernous Shinjuku theater.
> That's something you don't get on video. I think a
> lot of excellent
> suggestions have already come up, but I'd love to
> see one of the Ishida
> Eri-era "Tsuri baka" films, any Shintoho horror, and
> any pre-90s Takakura
> Ken movie. Also the 1963 Toei Doga "classic"
> "Wanpaku oji no orochi taiji."
> On top of that, any Crayon Shinchan movie. Is anyone
> planning on seeing the
> new one? Looks like some kind of Western this time.
> Michael Arnold 

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