Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation centers on the lives of two characters, Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlet Johansson). Bob is an aging actor and movie star from Hollywood, who struggles with a mid-life crisis. His visit to Tokyo is to film whiskey commercials as well as make appearances on some of the popular Japanese talk shows. On the other hand, Charlotte is a Yale graduate, who is also struggling with her life; she does not know what she wants despite being married to her husband for about two years. Just like Charlotte, Bob is also married and has been for about 25 years.
Evidently, both characters are at different levels in their respective marriages, but one thing they have in common is that they have doubts whether to stay married to their current partners or not. Amidst the challenges that Bob and Charlotte face, their introduction into the Japanese culture, presents further challenges for them to adjust. Nevertheless, the film’s portrayal of the urban landscape of Tokyo plays an integral role in helping the audience understand the challenges that Bob and Charlotte face; this is achieved through their understanding of how the two characters interact with the city, despite it being foreign.
In essence, the city of Tokyo is the channel through Coppola uses to educate her audience about the various challenges that Bob and Charlotte face in their lives and the attempts they make to escape from bondage. In one of the scenes in the movie, Charlotte is seen visiting a temple, where she finds a funeral service in progress. Monks wearing yellow robs are seen chanting while seated on the floor. When she returns to her hotel room, Charlotte makes phone call to her friend complaining that she did not feel anything during the ritual (King, 2010).
In this particular instance, Charlotte longs for a transformative experience despite the fact that she is in foreign land and understands little of the host culture. Her expectations are demonstrative of the longing that she has to find meaning in her life. The fact that the rituals are in foreign language does not seem to matter to her, it is the feeling that they elicit that is of importance to her. However, the effect that she expects does not occur and this makes her sink deep into despair worrying that she will not find whatever she is looking for.
King (2010) explains that, Charlotte is “seeking new meaning and looking to be undone by something unfamiliar,” (p. 166). Thus, this explains why she “looks to Japan, to its religion and local rituals to provide her with answers about herself,” (King, 2010, p. 166-167). The foreignness of Tokyo is not a consideration for Charlotte; rather, she looks beyond it and creates an expectation that she will find meaning for her life through her experiences with foreign culture. Arguably, she perceives Tokyo and her culture as a channel through which she can have a better understanding of herself, hence achieving direction for her life.
Still on the same day when Charlotte visits the temple, she meets her rather busy husband. Instead of keeping her engaged in a conversation they could both share in, he starts complaining about his work. However, Charlotte appears to be lost in space and the words from her husband, who appears to be in a monologue, do not reach her (Weinberg, 2016). This demonstrates how dissociated Charlotte is from the environment around her; she is lost in her own mind probably thinking about what do to with her life.
In the same day, Charlotte decides to revisit the city, but with a clear mind. However, in this particular scene, the camera focuses more on the surroundings (Weinberg, 2016). Charlotte looks up and sees a tall building fitted with a huge LED screen. The contents of the screen change any time she looks at it. The building is a specific location in Tokyo, which is a recognizable landmark to most Japanese residents. However, the building itself is both permanent as well as impermanent due to the constant change in its appearance from time to time (Weinberg, 2016).
One could compare the building to Charlotte’s husband, whose permanence is demonstrated by the fact that he is married her, while his character of changing attitudes frequently demonstrates the aspect of impermanence. Therefore, Coppola uses Charlotte’s interaction with the city to demonstrate her experiences in foreign land to those of her personal life. Such a comparison is made to enable the audience understand the emotional experience that Charlotte is going through with her husband, whom she is bound to through marriage.
The same way, the large building plays an important role, as it is a landmark recognized, which the Japanese relate to; it promotes Tokyo’s identity the same Charlotte’s husband influences who she is. In the movie, Coppola’s technique of scene transitions and imageries of the city play an important role in enabling the audience understand the transformations the two characters, Bob and Charlotte, go through. In one of the scenes, Bob and Charlotte go out with a Japanese friend, Charlie, who speaks English. Coppola makes sure to move the camera with the movements of the characters.
When in a nightclub, Charlie gets into a fight with the bartender, which leads to them being chased away with a toy gun (Weinberg, 2016). Bob and Charlotte find this experience amusing and as they ran away, the sounds of pinball games suddenly replace the gunshots. In this particular series of events, the audience gets to understand that Bob and Charlotte are no longer feeling lost, instead, they seem to enjoy the rather chaotic situation of some parts of the city ( Weinberg, 2016). The reaction of the two characters speaks volumes about the challenges they are both going through.
However, it seems apparent that as they spend more time in Tokyo, the more they get to find amusement in the strange and unfamiliar events, which they experience. It is no longer question of studying the new environment, but rather adjusting to it, which can only be achieved through being adventurous and assuming a life as resident from Tokyo. Here, Charlotte and Bob are able to place themselves in a situation where their problems do not prevent them from enjoying the beauty of the city and what experiences it offers.
Instead, they behave as individuals who have visited the city before or have even lived there for a long time. Coppola manages to demonstrate to her udience the transformative effect of the city on both Bob and Charlotte’s characters. As the movie begins, both seem lost and troubled, but as it progresses, they are able to interact with the city and this provides an opportunity for them to find happiness, even if for a short while. Assertively, the scene transitions help the audience understand the relationship between Bob and Charlotte better.
Even though the two feel a deep connection towards each other, they know that their relationship cannot go beyond what they share. Their differences as well as marriages are the major obstacles they face. In a karaoke bar, Bob sings a song with the lyrics, “more than this, you know there is nothing” ( Weinberg, 2016), while he projects a somber mood looking at Charlotte. This demonstrates that to both characters, their emotions cannot develop to any extent other than them being friends.
Such realization is seen to elicit a sad feeling in both characters as they had finally found what they were looking. However, they know it cannot work out in their favor. When Bob is returning to their hotel, the audience is shown the Tokyo Tower and the Bay Bridge as recognizable landmarks in the city. Weinberg (2016) notes that, this demonstrates the transformation that takes place in characters’ state of mind as the presentation of Tokyo becomes clearer through the depiction of such specific features in the city.
Once again, Coppola is able to expose her audience to the experiences that Bob and Charlotte go through, and what impact they have on them. Both characters appear to have found meaning in their lives, but unfortunately, it is clear to them that they cannot be together. This clarity is emphasized through the camera’s focus on the Tokyo Tower and the Bay Bridge, which are presented rather clearly. As noted, Coppola wants her audience to understand that Bob and Charlotte are no longer feeling