AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Lost in Translation
Director: Sofia Coppola (Dir)
Release Date:   3 Oct 2003
Duration (in mins):  102
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Cast: Scarlett Johansson  (Charlotte)
  Bill Murray  (Bob Harris)
  Akiko Takeshita  (Ms. Kawasaki)
 

Summary: Bob Harris, a middle-aged, American actor struggling with a midlife crisis, is forced by his declining movie career to accept a lucrative contract endorsing Suntory, a Japanese whiskey. Upon his arrival in Tokyo to film a television commercial for the whiskey, Bob is overwhelmed by culture shock. En route to the luxurious Plaza Hotel, Bob gazes at the staggering array of neon signs and is bemused to see one of his own billboards touting Suntory. At the hotel, Bob meets the executives who will be guiding him through his daily duties, and after they leave him, futilely attempts to sleep. Jetlagged and remorseful over having forgotten his son’s birthday, Bob makes his way to the hotel’s lounge, where a female American singer is performing. Bob wearily abandons his refuge when two enthusiastic fans question him about one of his famous action movies, then spends a restless night tossing and turning. After being wakened by automatically opening curtains and battling an awkwardly placed shower head, Bob goes to the set of the television commercial. There, he is confused by the long conversations in Japanese between the intense director and the nervous translator, who relates only the briefest of instructions to Bob. Uncertain that he is receiving an adequate translation of the director’s wishes, Bob does the best he can with the mundane dialogue. Meanwhile, also staying at the Plaza is a young American couple, Charlotte and John, who is a photographer. John is in Japan to photograph a rock and roll band, while Charlotte has accompanied him more out of a sense of boredom than of purpose. Unnerved by her lack of direction and a growing feeling that her marriage is failing, Charlotte also suffers from insomnia and spends her time roaming the crowded streets or visiting Buddhist shrines. After filming the commercial, Bob returns to his room, where a prostitute sent by the advertising agency visits him. Appalled by the woman’s mangled English and bizarre attempts to seduce him, Bob escapes from her. The next morning, the executives ask Bob to stay a few extra days in order to appear on a highly rated television show, but Bob, feeling increasingly disoriented, is reluctant to agree. Bob then focuses on a photo shoot for the whiskey, at which the photographer, who barely speaks English, asks the tuxedo-clad actor to assume poses reminiscent of the “Rat Pack” and “James Bond.” Disgusted by his posturing and still unable to sleep, Bob goes to the hotel lounge, where Charlotte, amused by his ill-fitting tuxedo, smiles at him. The next morning, Charlotte is less amused when John bumps into Kelly, a vacuous American actress who gushes over his photography. While Charlotte is irritated by Kelly’s lack of intelligence and imagination, John urges her not to be so condescending. That night, the two insomniacs again meet in the lounge and upon striking up a conversation, Bob admits to Charlotte that his marriage is in trouble, and that he feels he should be doing real acting instead of the high-paying but unsatisfying endorsement. Charlotte, who recently graduated from Yale with a philosophy degree, reveals that she has been married for only two years but also feels lost in the world. The next evening, Charlotte and John are in the lounge with Kelly, who is doing publicity for her latest movie, and Charlotte abandons their pointless conversation to join Bob. Bob teasingly offers to make Charlotte his accomplice in a “prison break” to escape the country, and Charlotte, once again charmed by his ready wit, agrees to accompany him. The next day, John leaves for another city while Charlotte remains behind so as not to interfere with his work. Upon running into Bob at the hotel pool, Charlotte invites him to accompany her and some friends on a night out on the town. During an unusual evening of visiting nightclubs, drinking, attempting to converse in a hodge-podge of Japanese, English and sign language and singing karaoke, Bob and Charlotte become fast friends. After carrying the sleepy Charlotte from the taxi to her hotel room, Bob tucks her in and resignedly goes to his own room, from which he calls his wife Lydia. As usual, Bob and Lydia’s conversation is strained on both sides. The next day, Charlotte shows Bob her recently injured toe, and he insists on taking her to a hospital. After another strange encounter with people whom they cannot understand, they are drawn even closer to each other. That night, Bob meets Charlotte and her friends at a strip club, but Bob and Charlotte, uncomfortable with the lurid atmosphere, quickly leave together. After a walk through the city, they return to the hotel, and upon discovering that neither of them can sleep, watch television in Bob’s room. Lying companionably together on the bed, they share their frustrations about their lives, and when Charlotte asks Bob if marriage gets easier as time passes, Bob answers her honestly that it sometimes does not. Charlotte confesses that she has tried both writing and photography but is proficient at neither and feels that she is aimless. Content at being together, the pair finally falls asleep with Charlotte curled up next to Bob. The next day, Charlotte goes alone to Kyoto, where she admires the more traditional Japanese appearance of the countryside and its residents. Meanwhile, Bob agrees to stay in Tokyo in order to be near Charlotte for a few more days, but is deeply depressed after appearing on the ridiculous talk show with its hyperactive host. Bob then receives a call from Lydia, who does not know how to respond when he sadly declares that he feels lost. After watching himself on the show that evening, Bob goes to the lounge and ends up sleeping with the singer. The next morning, Charlotte knocks on Bob’s door and invites him to lunch, but when she hears the singer, becomes upset and leaves. Bob meets Charlotte for lunch anyway, but Charlotte’s feeling of betrayal and Bob’s defensiveness over having hurt her prevent them from enjoying the oddly prepared meal. Late that night, a fire alarm draws them outside, where, hoping to make up, they discuss their lunch. In the lounge, they try not to succumb to their romantic attraction, even though they are both distressed that Bob is returning to the United States in the morning. Finally going upstairs, they give each other a kiss on the cheek before saying good-night. In the morning, Bob is frustrated in his attempt to bid Charlotte a proper farewell by the fawning Suntory executives, who repeatedly ask him to pose for photographs. Unable to break free of the crowd, Bob says an awkward goodbye to Charlotte, then leaves in a car bound for the airport. As he is being driven away, however, Bob glimpses Charlotte walking along the street and asks the chauffeur to stop. Running to Charlotte, Bob finally embraces her. Charlotte also gives in to her feelings and cries as Bob comforts her. After sharing a brief but tender kiss, the couple then says goodbye and smiles fondly at each other before parting. 

Distribution Company: Focus Features
Production Company: Focus Features
American Zoetrope
Elemental Films
Director: Sofia Coppola (Dir)
  Takahide Kawakami (1st asst dir)
  Roman Coppola (Addl Japanese unit)
  Hiroya Igawa (Chief asst dir)
  Taiichi Sugiyama (2d asst dir)
  Motonobu Kato (2d 2d asst dir)
  Shu Fujimoto (2d 2d asst dir)
Producer: Ross Katz (Prod)
  Sofia Coppola (Prod)
  Francis Ford Coppola (Exec prod)
  Fred Roos (Exec prod)
  Mitch Glazer (Assoc prod)
  Stephen Schible (Co-prod)
  Callum Greene (Line prod)
  Kiyoshii Inoue (Line prod, Japan)
Writer: Sofia Coppola (Wrt)

Subject Major: Americans in foreign countries
  Cultural conflict
  Friendship
  Insomnia
  Loneliness
  Romance--Age difference
  Tokyo (Japan)
 
Subject Minor: Actors and actresses
  Buddhists
  Cynics
  Hospitals
  Hotels
  Intellectuals
  Japanese
  Karaoke
  Kyoto (Japan)
  Liquor
  Marriage
  Neglected wives
  Nightclubs
  Photographers
  Publicity
  Shrines
  Singers
  Suntory
  Television commercials
  Television programs
  Translators

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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