Monday, October 19, 2009

Lost In Translation or How to Shoot Two Birds With One Stone

Sophia Coppola’s
Lost In Translation presents a love story between two Americans staying in Tokyo, Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson). The bond between the two characters in forged by their mutual feelings of displacement and alienation during their stay in Japan, in other words they connect because they are both presented as the 'Other'. In The Practices of Looking, Sturken & Cartwright define the Other as, "a term used to refer to the category of subjectivity that is set up in binary opposition to the dominant subject category in a culture" (451). But by presenting Bob and Charlotte as the Other in order for both of them to find each other, Coppala has placed them in an exaggerated version of Japan rife with stereotypes.
In one scene, Bob and Charlotte make fun of the inability of the Japanese people to distinguish R’s and L’s. In another, Bob takes advantage of the fact that the Japanese chef cannot understand English. He not only tells Charlotte to take one of her shoes off, but also yells condescendingly at the chef, something to the effect of, “What’s with that serious face?” Yet annother example of the stereotyping of the Japanese in the film is the scene in which Bob is aggresively propositioned by a Japanese prostitute. Japanese women are so often portrayed as either docile and submissive or sex-crazed dominatrices in Western culture. The mispronunciation joke gets brought up again in this sequence: the prostitute tells Bob to "lip" her stockings, which causes great confusion until he figures out that she means "rip". This, along with more stereotypical concerning the size and manners of Japanese people are shown throughout Lost In Translation as a means of comedy.
While these stereotypes are clearly placed in the film in order to provide a more believable alienation for Bob and Charlotte's relationship to be built upon as well as serving as a shared souce of bemusement at the "oddities" of Japanese culture, they are still harmful and offensive stereotypes.
Furthermore, Coppala also manages to stereotype Americans as bratty and unwilling to learn, by portraying Bob and Charlotte as having these problems connecting with the Japanese culture. In one scene Charlotte trips and blames the sidewalk for her incident, even going as far as to mention suing the city. Additionally, Bob and Charlotte wander through the whole film, revelling in their alienation, never once thinking to learn the language or trying to understand Japanese culture. This only furthers the already held assumption that Americans only think their culture is correct and are stuck in their ways. By portraying Japan as "odd" along with characterizing Bob and Charlotte's bemusement with it, Sophia Coppola plays into different stereotypes associated with both cultures.


  1. Lip my stockings!

    omg, I LOOOOVE this movie.

    so simple, so good.

    "Aren't you gonna wish me a good fright?"

  2. Another scene which supports your point is when Bob goes on the talk show. It further alienates him from the Japanese culture (which in itself is also portrayed as a stereotype) because this crazy/eccentric show contrasts with Bob's indifferent and somewhat bored attitude.