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Lost in Translation, Again.

a while back, when i went and saw lost in translation, i said the film could be accused of being racist. well, it has opened in tokyo, and this is what is being said:

"The film is under attack for cultural bias, and for maximizing its humor by depicting Japanese as robotic and cartoon-like. The question is: to what degree is the film insensitive - and to what extent is this the kind of "poking fun" that some ethnic groups now ignore?

Until now, none of these voices or questions has come from Japan. Indeed, while "Lost in Translation" opened all over the world last fall, it opened in image-conscious Tokyo only last weekend. Some sources say this is deliberate. Japanese decorum on culturally sensitive matters precludes angry protest or high-volume misgivings about images that might be considered unfair or "unpleasant," to use a local reviewer's term. But it is telling that the Academy-award-winning "valentine" can be seen here only in a small 300-seat theater in Shibuya, and critics warn that the film may hurt the feelings of ordinary Japanese."



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Apr. 19th, 2004 07:55 am (UTC)
Again, I have to point out that Americans are routinely portrayed as rude, fat, ignorant, and loud, and no one complains. In fact, they usually nod sagely and agree that we are all idiots. Why are we not given the consideration that other cultures receive? No one cares if we are sensitive to our portrayals. Do we deserve it, simply because our nation is on top this decade? Did Japan deserve it when they were?

And the question of why it was set in Tokyo--implying that that itself is a racist choice--is ridiculous. It was set in Tokyo because that's the story. If she wanted to set it in Berlin, she would have.

And no one would have complained if the Germans had been portrayed as sexually bizarre and emotionless.
Apr. 19th, 2004 04:51 pm (UTC)
actually, i'm always aware of racist portrayals, be it in americans, or french, or germans. so, while i see your point there, it's not got much to do with me personally. the portrayal of racial sterotypes is actually of great interest to me--it's one of the concerns in my thesis, and my writing in general.

however, i suspect that why people don't care as much about caucasian depictions as much as asian, is because in the western world (and i'm just looking at it from a western point of view) there is a stigma of silence surrounding the portrayal of white people. it's one of those things that places silence on how caucasian men and women recieve advantages in a society while african and asian men and women don't. (of course, you can split the caucasian group down the middle with national ethnicity, but man, i just woke up and i'm feeling lazy and tired.) a good example of this kind of thing, is when you look around in western cultures, and note that white people are never asked to speak for their racial culture, nor are they expected too. so when people see fat and stupid white americans, they know (in a western world) that these people do not speak for all of america.

the reason people focus on it in lost in translation (and here i'm just tossing up an idea, not sure if it is or it isn't) is possibly because the director is white and has portrayed an asian culture, and thus has elected to give them a voice in the background in of the film. thus, because she is speaking of a ethnicity not her own, people will focus on it more.

but who knows.

as for tokyo... well, i actually thought she chose that to further push the alienation of the characters. the alienation might have been harder to feel in a place like berlin, where, yes, people speak a different language, and have different customs, but that when you all stand quietly around, you all look similar in that ethnic way. *shrug*
Apr. 19th, 2004 11:02 pm (UTC)
I wouldn't say black americans are portrayed with any more sensitivity. But you do have a point about the enforced lack of ethnic identity.

I think that yes, she chose Tokyo because as a city, it is very strange and alienating, perhaps more than any other. But its easier to grouse about portrayals in a movie not about Asians as people--maybe even partly about how Tokyo culture erases the individuality and dignity of its own poeple--than to address why that culture has that effect. From what she has said, however, this movie is at least partly about her own experience abroad. In fact, the Charlotte character looks and acts quite a lot like Sofia.

In any event, while I did feel, even when seeing it, that some of the jokes--such as the shower--were rather cheap, there is still value in the movie. It's funny how in the pomo world it's against the rules to criticize any culture but your own--and in many cases, you can't even criticize your own.
Apr. 20th, 2004 08:52 pm (UTC)
i think the film has merit, but i do think coppola is coming under the right sort of criticism for the film. the portrayal of japan is not meant to be offensive, but it is, in many ways, an unthoughtout portrayal. if nothing else, the criticism should encourage artists to get to know a city before they set something in it.

criticising a culture, however, always gets peoples backs up. better than apathy, though.
Apr. 20th, 2004 02:24 am (UTC)
Given that many Japanese cultural commentators since its release have described the film as offensive, I'm gonna go with - it's offensive.

I think comparing this to depictions of Americans in film is a bit erroneous. For starters, subverting a dominant paradigm is very different to picking on minorities. And I'm not talking in terms of population volumes here, but in terms of cultural volumes we're exposed to in the western world outside the US.

Besides, stereotyping is just plain lazy storytelling. You might excuse it in "National Lampoon's European Vacation" but in a film that takes itself seriously? Nah.
Apr. 20th, 2004 08:57 pm (UTC)
btw, have you seen the film?

i don't think it's purposefully offensive, i just think this is what has come out of an artist who has been, as you say, lazy. though i think it's more of coppola simply not thinking through the idea that she was just presenting stereotypes, cliches, and the such, and revealing that she's more than a little naive about ethnic portrayals and diversity.

hopefully she's getting the education she needs right now, though, cause the film is quite good in many ways, and i haven't honestly been as captivated by a love story in... shit, ages. at the end of the film i actually thought: i could have spent another half an hour in murray and johannson's screen presence.
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