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Lost in Translation Again.

a few weeks back, people might remember me writing about the film lost in translation, which stared bill murray and scarlett johannson, and has recently received a bunch of award nominations. to briefly recap, i enjoyed it, but i couldn't help feeling that running through the film was an american voice, lamenting that the world (or in this case tokyo) wasn't like home. i didn't think this was the intent of coppola when she made the film, but rather that it was a way in which the film could be seen. i wasn't quite sure which way i swung on it back then--maybe the film, even unintentionally, was racist, and then again, probably not. after all, when you go to a different culture/country, there is some loss of identity, of, as someone said, losing yourself.

(actually, that was catherynne valente, whose book the labyrinth is coming out this year from prime.)

so it was some interest that i read this article, which talked about lost in translation being a racist film. here's a quote: "But it's the way Japanese characters are represented that gives the game away. There is no scene where the Japanese are afforded a shred of dignity. The viewer is sledgehammered into laughing at these small, yellow people and their funny ways, desperately aping the Western lifestyle without knowledge of its real meaning. It is telling that the longest vocal contribution any Japanese character makes is at a karaoke party, singing a few lines of the Sex Pistols' God Save the Queen."

(actually, this article was sent to me by deb biancotti, who is a fine writer of short fiction, and who i recommended the film too. she liked it, but wondered what japanese people thought of it.)

i've still not decided on what i think. probably won't, to be honest. i liked the film and i don't really think it was intentionally racist. but the link is interesting as it is written from a half japanese, half american fellow, and because there is a poll down the side that has been voted on by over three and a half thousand people, and which shows an even spread in the four choices, without one 'big' winner.


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Feb. 3rd, 2004 07:04 pm (UTC)
I thought that the film was about the American characters being so caught up in themselves that they missed out on experiencing Japan (whatever that might entail). Instead they spent most of their time in their hotel and clung to other Americans. In this sense it could be a, probably fairly accurate, portrayal of Americans overseas... anyway, I got that impression and I thought that it was quite probably intentional on the part of Coppola. Perhaps I am too generous in my interpretation.
Feb. 3rd, 2004 08:40 pm (UTC)
I will say that this is not entirely a culture that is about dignity. In a movie told from the point of view of gaijin, it's hard to depict the Japanese as solemn, dignified samurai-types--which in itself would be another form of racism. They were shown as at home in the wildness of Tokyo, which was as strange as anything else to foreigners. The obsequiousness that was shown to Murray's character is DEAD ON. This is a culture with so many rules about how to humiliate yourself properly to those who have more wealth or influence than you. It's not racist, because it HAPPENS. But in the end, this wasn't a movie about Japanese people, who after all, run no risk of being lost in translation in their own country. It was about two lost people in a surreal landscape, and the citizens of that dystopian wonderland are not meant to show an entire race, only the aspects of that culture which a short-time visitor might come into contact with.

Believe that if it were a flick about Japanese people in America, Americans would be shown as boorish and dumb, loud and obnoxious. An no one would have a problem with that.
Mar. 9th, 2004 06:52 am (UTC)
I think some are missing the point...

The point is that there are two people, in totally foreign culture to their own, trying to find some meaning with each other. Charlotte and Bob are totally on their own, even their own links to their "normal" lives - spouses etc are not there for them. They are isolated, and each encounter draws them closer to each other, because they see each other as some one, some thing, *anything* to relate to, to understand them.

When you travel, especially if it is only briefly, what you first see are the superficial things, and you relate them, favourably or not, to what you know. It is a rare person who can immediately immerse himself in a new culture, without it being in terms of the differences to "back home." Just as it takes time to know a person, it takes time to know a culture. Each encounter brings more depth. It also helps to have few distractions. Notice how Charlotte sees more beauty in Japan when she is alone, in Kyoto for example? I think the closest Bob gets is playing golf, but then he is older, and more cynical.

There is a stereotype of the American abroad - mocking the culture, wishing everything was like home. Notice how Charlotte and Bob fill that image very well? But we find out that there is more there - because that's where the movie's direction draws us. After all, the movie is about them, not Japan, and the experience of the culture they are in is filtered through them.

One of the lines in the movie, that (roughly) Japan wouldn't be so fun to visit again, could be seen as a recognition of Bob and Charlotte's shallow experience in the first visit. A lot of humour is shallow, and a lot of times things are seen as funny when it is simply unfamiliarity that gives us the reaction of laughter. A second time, and we don't get the joke anymore - because we're not simply focused on the differences.
Mar. 9th, 2004 01:00 pm (UTC)
Re: I think some are missing the point...
i don't think people are missing that point. certainly i'm not. (though the whole 'their humour is shallow, thus their shallow understanding' is a bit of a cop out, i figure). it's just that there is more than one way to look at a film, more than one things going on within it...
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