Lost in Translation

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Lost in Translation is a 2003 film directed by Sofia Coppola. Her second feature film, Lost in Translation starred Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in her first feature role and was nominated for four Academy Awards including Best Actor, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay, and Best Picture. The film, which was shot entirely in Japan, explores culture shock and how people interact within an entirely different world – with that world and with each other.



Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is an aged movie star who has been sent to Tokyo to film an advertisement for Suntory Whisky, all the while dealing with familial problems back home. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is married to a celebrity photographer and decides to travel with him to Tokyo for his next shoot, but is promptly left in the hotel while he goes on shoots. Eventually, the two – both lonely and directionless – meet in the bar of the Park Hyatt Tokyo where they are staying, and begin a friendship founded on their mutual loneliness and unique position in a foreign land and culture.

The film continues to explore their flirting relationship as they explore Tokyo and the difference between American and Japanese culture, Coppola using these differences to highlight the similarities between her protagonists. The night before Bob leaves Tokyo, he spends the night with the lounge singer from the bar which he has been frequenting and later wakes to find her in his bed and Charlotte waiting for him. Their new friendship is temporarily terse until reconciliation during a fire alarm.

When Bob is finally leaving, the next morning, he sees Charlotte walking down a crowded street. He has the taxi driver stop and chases after Charlotte. They face each other for a few minutes and after embracing, Bob whispers something inaudible into her ear before turning to walk away. The film ends on this note, allowing the audience to make its own inferences as to what becomes of the two.

Japanese Interaction

A major crux of the film is the interaction with Japanese culture, as the title insinuates. The Japanese dialogue is always without subtitles so that the audience feels just as lost as Bob, and particular scenes such as the filming of the Suntory Whiskey commercial are particularly poignant as the Japanese director and Bob try to communicate and much is lost between them. The translator’s few words to express the long string of words from the direct irks and confuses Bob for this reason. Throughout the film, Bob and Charlotte interact with multiple different aspects of Japanese and Tokyo culture from the perspective of the complete outsider.

Japanese Locations

In the film, multiple real world Tokyo locations were used for filming, including the Park Hyatt Tokyo and its 52nd floor New York Bar. The hotel is located in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Additionally, the Heian Jingu Shrine in Kyoto was highlighted alongside the steps of the San-mon Gate at Nanzen-ji. Every location mentioned or visited in the film was a real world location in Tokyo (or other parts of Japan) during filming in 2002 and 2003.

Critical Response

The film, while only using a $4 million budget, was carried by considerable word-of-mouth, and critical acclaim, leading to a total gross of more than $45 million in the US. The film’s director and stars were equally lauded with award nominations across the board. Some reviewers took contention with the use of a vague, frustrating ending, and one in particular – Kiku Day of The Guardian in London – called it “anti-Japanese racism” for regarding American culture above Japanese culture. However, most reviewers – both from the US and Japan – praised the film’s handling of Japanese culture and the interaction of two outsiders with a strange place.


  • Academy Awards – Sofia Coppola – Best Original Screenplay
  • Golden Globes – Bill Murray – Best Actor, Musical/Comedy
  • Golden Globes – Lost in Translation – Best Picture, Musical/Comedy
  • Golden Globes – Sofia Coppola – Best Screenplay
  • BAFTA Awards – Sarah Flack – Best Editing
  • BAFTA Awards – Bill Murray – Best Actor
  • BAFTA Awards – Scarlett Johansson – Best Actress

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