May 30, 2014

What the Hell Did He Say to Her?: An Analysis of Sofia Coppola's 'Lost in Translation'

Lost in TranslationUpon being introduced to Darren Foley's video analyses (his study of Prisoners is an absolute must-see), you can imagine my excitement when I saw that he broke down one of my favorite films, Lost in Translation. In this analysis, Foley explains many of the film's more obscure elements, like the themes of loneliness and isolation, the cinematography that communicates said themes, and, yes, the infamous scene where Bill Murray whispers inaudibly to Scarlett Johannson. Continue on to check it out.

Here's the trailer to Lost in Translation, which, by the way, Sofia Coppola directed back in 2003. Is anyone else as surprised as I am that this movie is 11 years old?

Anyone who has seen this film knows that the themes of loneliness and isolation are really apparent. The cinematography definitely communicates that -- the wide shots of the characters occupying a small space alone, or a large space with thousands of people shuffling by them completely unaware of their existence. Both of these things work to sell the idea that Murray's character, Bob, and Johansson's character, Charlotte, are lonely, isolated, and missing something.

As Foley points out in his analysis, Coppola also uses the concept of "balance" to communicate the emotional state of her characters. Or in other words, the world of her characters, in this case Tokyo, becomes the visual representation of their emotional states. For instance, when Bob and Charlotte arrive in Tokyo, they are both emotionally unbalanced and unsatisfied, so the way they are composed in several shots reflects that visually -- they take up one side of the frame without much to counterbalance them. When they finally meet each other, however, she begins to bring that balance to his life, and thus, to the frame. Here are some examples of this:


Notice the contrast between the two sides of the image (one large, dark object vs. many small, light objects) -- unbalanced.
The same thing goes for this image as well.
When they meet, they bring balance to each other's lives, which is represented by a balanced composition.
Even when apart, Charlotte's satisfying effect on Bob's life lingers, as seen in this beautifully composed shot.

Check out Foley's analysis below. (For those of you who want to go right to his interpretation of the "Whisper Scene", it starts at around 7:25.)

Feel free to share your own analytical takeaways from Lost in Translation, as well as your interpretation of why Sofia Coppola shot the "Whisper Scene" the way she did in the comments below.

[via Must See Films & Filmmaker IQ]

Your Comment

26 Comments

Only recently watched it, really is spectacular! I loved it!

May 30, 2014 at 5:43PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Jed Darlington-...

It was day 37 of 32 and someone forgot hit record on the sound. Cinema magic.

May 30, 2014 at 6:26PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Travis Jones

Movies are about stories at first. We all know that. I was living in Japan for 6 years when that film came out. This movie is extremely xenophobic: Its description of life in Japan and Japanese people is a ridiculous and insulting shortcut, the kind of stories that a stupid tourist might tell to his friends back home after a couple of days stay. Out of making bad fun of Japanese people, this film is boring. Just imagine for one second the reverse story. A Japanese guy staying in the US for a while witnessing with chock the weirdness of life there: amazing number of overweighed people still eating junk food and drinking huge cup of soda (wtf?), no one able to speak foreign language (only English! So nuts!), mostly ignorant of the outside world and not interested about it, very weird TV host (they make their teeth so white! Ridiculous), violent news all the time (kids killing babies, student firing in their school, starting war somewhere randomly, defending freedom and democracy while promoting torture...), Even greatly directed and beautifully shot, I am not sure this movie would be one of your favorite anymore!

May 30, 2014 at 6:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Frankly

Nice comment +1

May 30, 2014 at 7:22PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Lorra

Isn't that the point, the different perspective of a couple of temporary visitors? I don't see the film making any fun of Japan, maybe a little of the commercial director at the start and a little of the TV host but apart from that, two little moments the rest of the film seemed respectful to me.

I agree with your comment on freedom and torture tho.

May 30, 2014 at 7:33PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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That's the point, you were suppose to be feeling what they were feeling. Its called directing, would the loneliness have had the same impact if it wasn't portrayed this way? No, and even you demonstrated that if a foreign person were to visit the states it would have the same impact, but of course you would be totally ok with this correct? From your simple interpretation. Don't be so high and mighty about what should be and what shouldn't, it was the directors intent on doing so therefore it is. You don't get to call what movies people should like or don't, all you've done is proven one thing:

That you don't get the point and were more inflamed by your own bias.

May 30, 2014 at 7:55PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Xiong

-and I dont even really love the movie, just that it was ok.

May 30, 2014 at 7:56PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Xiong

Sorry to make you feel that way, but my comment was not there to hurt anyone. My only bias is to be a citizen of the world trying to get an open mind putting all the culture I encountered on the same level. I had spent half of my working life in foreign countries (including 17 years in Asia so far) with a curious mind as journalist and now cameraman/director. Nobody can deny that only Hollywood can afford this type of movie for the entertainment of its local market on the first place, making fun of other cultures or distorting world history for its own good (in war movies for example). Stereotypes rules on that matter and Hollywood is using them a lot. No other movie industry in the world has got the ability to make that type of story and making fun of US without problem (marketing, diplomatic…). And this is a great thing, as we have seen enough stereotypes. I can hardly share the mood of the character in that story as for me traveling overseas is an exciting discovery for locals with high appreciation for people making the effort to communicate with me, in broken English. My Japanese is even more broke. Out of this, “Coppolas” are great film makers. I just found this Lost in Translation too “American” for an overseas story.

May 31, 2014 at 1:15AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Frankly

I respect your stance, but i in no way see the same things you do. The production of the film was very independent, no real Hollywood fingers in the pie. This is why I'm saying that you are judging this film with out proper merit, instead of focusing on the character you were too bothered with the stuff that enraged you. The story revolves around Sofia Coppola's own personal experience around her times in Japan, as she also loved the environment. So what if there are wacky characters in the story? It doesn't automatically equal calling all the people of Japan crazy people. You're looking for a problem that isn't there.

As a citizen of the world you don't seem to be that understanding or patient with it. You talk about being fair but point out about all the terrible things happening in the US, as if it doesn't exist everywhere else. I wasn't hurt by your remark but more bothered by how angry you seem to be.

" I am not sure this movie would be one of your favorite anymore!" V Renee can love what ever movie she wants, you some how trying to shame her of it is poor, and shows your own lack of compassion. Movies are subjective, anyone can have different opinions on them, just like you. Your freely able to state them but it doesn't change the fact that you come off like an asshole. Devaluing alot of what you have to say, so i'm done with it.

May 31, 2014 at 7:15AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Xiong

There have been several Asian films about coming to the west similar to Lost in Translation. One is a Taiwanese film called "What Time is it There?" about loneliness and Isolation of a young Taiwanese woman who moves to Paris and a a young man in Taipei whose father just died, He happened to sell her a watch as she was leaving for Paris and becomes obsessed with thinking about her in Paris. There is almost no dialog in the film, yet it manages to be very moving. It makes Paris and Taipei look cold, hard and depressing.

There is also a very funny film by Fung Xiao Gong called, " Bu Jian Bu San" (Be There or be Square) about a young Chinese man and a young Chinese woman who meet in Los Angeles. Its insulting to both American and Chinese culture, but then again most comedy is insulting to cultural norms.

Sophia Coppola has perhaps the most Asian style among all American directors, her films are uniquely pensive almost to a meditative state. Her films remind me of some great Chinese filmmakers like, Jia Zang Ke,( Platform). Tsai Ming-liang, ( What Time is it There).and even Wong Kar Wai (Chongking Express).

I have a TV production company in Shanghai and have worked in Asia for 10 years. I don't know anyone in Asia who was offended by' Lost in Translation".

It's good that you want to promote global citizenship and cultural understanding, This is something that the US particularly needs more of, however I don't think that "Lost in Translation' was in any way meant to degrade Japanese culture or people.

May 31, 2014 at 9:11AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Ric

There have been several Asian films about coming to the west similar to Lost in Translation. One is a Taiwanese film called "What Time is it There?" about loneliness and Isolation of a young Taiwanese woman who moves to Paris and a a young man in Taipei whose father just died, He happened to sell her a watch as she was leaving for Paris and becomes obsessed with thinking about her in Paris. There is almost no dialog in the film, yet it manages to be very moving. It makes Paris and Taipei look cold, hard and depressing.

There is also a very funny film by Fung Xiao Gong called, " Bu Jian Bu San" (Be There or be Square) about a young Chinese man and a young Chinese woman who meet in Los Angeles. Its insulting to both American and Chinese culture, but then again most comedy is insulting to cultural norms.

There was also a Chinese comedy film that came out last year called “Lost in Thailand” It featured every negative Thai stereotype you could imagine. It was also credited with generating an additional 1.2 million tourists to Thailand from China ( as well as an additional 4-5 billion dollars). The Wall street journal credited the film with keeping the Thai economy out of recession in 2013. The Film makers got a special audience with the Thai Prime Minister,( who was just deposed in a Coup) and a personal “thank you” from her

Sophia Coppola has perhaps the most Asian style among all American directors, her films are uniquely pensive almost to a meditative state. Her films remind me of some great Chinese filmmakers like, Jia Zang Ke,( Platform). Tsai Ming-liang, ( What Time is it There).and even Wong Kar Wai (Chongking Express).

I have a TV production company in Shanghai and have worked in Asia for 10 years. I don't know anyone in Asia who was offended by' Lost in Translation".

It's good that you want to promote global citizenship and cultural understanding, This is something that the US particularly needs more of, however I don't think that "Lost in Translation' was in any way meant to degrade Japanese culture or people.

May 31, 2014 at 9:23AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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ric

Careful not to judge too quickly.
I lived in Japan a total of 13 years.
Left after 2 years never to go back.... then back a year later for another year, and left, never to go back.
But, somehow, I ended up back there for another 10 years. ... sort of parallels my experience viewing this movie...
I remember my critical view of this film resembled yours the first time I saw it. I was even bored and I felt the view of Japan was unfair.
Oddly, and unexpectedly, when I saw it a 2nd time, I completely loved it. I was flabbergasted.
I saw it a 3rd time and liked it even more... so now, a movie a almost didn't like at all has become one of my favorites.

Bill Murray's character is exposed to a different Japan than most foreigners visiting Japansee as tourists. That's part of what makes the film interesting. And the truth is, while some of the portrayals of Japanese culture seemed exaggerated.... the country is FULL of such bizarre things...and that's part of what makes it so fascinating.

Of course, those who've lived there and come to appreciate it don't always like the stereotypical presentations, even when they're true.
For some reason, on my 2nd and 3rd viewings, I just smiled and reminded myself, "most movies exaggerate reality" (pure, simple reality is often more boring).

Side note: {I was still, and always will be incredulous that Murray's superhuman character would resist temptation with one of the most beautiful women on the planet...but I forgave the director for this and thanked her for giving Scarlett Johansen this role.... one of her best and most subtle performances.}

May 30, 2014 at 8:31PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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oh boy. miss the point much?

Flip on transformers 6 buddy.

May 31, 2014 at 2:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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ergo

Hey Frankly they made that movie about the US you described! It's called Idiocracy and, yes, it IS one of my favorites.

May 31, 2014 at 4:11AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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NMA

Seriously? Some people are just not happy unless they are angry. God forbid a movie actually tells it like it is. I find your opinion pathetic really and take my hat off to the measured responses.

June 6, 2014 at 8:40PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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james

I completely understand this point of view. As a half-Japanese American, I'm acutely aware of Western/American stereotypes of Japan and Asia in general... There are a couple moments that seem a little "off", such as when the prostitute says "lip" them...it doesn't even make any sense b/c Japanese people can say "ri", but there is no "L" in Japanese (which is ironic to me that both my dad and I have L's in our American first names)... I'm always annoyed by the often Western confusion of Japanese and Chinese cultures...but it was a small thing. And the whole "Brack toe" thing is kind of annoying---making fun of Japanese foods because of how exotic they are to (some) Westerners... But I find these as minor, unintentional and well meaning problems...it's nothing as offensive as, like, every John Hughes movie before Home Alonr. Don't get me started on Long Duck Dong.

Lost In Translation is one of my favorite movies---i own the HD-DVD (ha!). I felt they the setting was designed to make them as different and out of place as possible. It just as easily could've been Oslo, Norway in the dead of winter...the fact that Murray and Johansson physically cannot "fit in" to the foreign location only alienates and isolates the characters more, so I understand why Coppola chose Japan.

June 9, 2014 at 5:33AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Daniel Mimura

Frankly,
As an Asian American I can say, I get what you are saying but this film is beautiful. If anything it is making fun of Americans. And c'mon, the name of the movie itself is Lost in Translation.

June 11, 2014 at 10:09PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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CDurai

It is stereotypical and explains Japanese life in a "tourist" sense because we are from the perspective of tourists. The character Charlotte is visiting tourist attractions in several scenes, and even Bob goes golfing on a beautiful course as you saw. The film is about isolation, and therefore Tokyo, and the exaggeration of its oddities is to emphasize how even if the characters were in a familiar environment, they would still be isolated and alone. Tokyo is Sofia Coppola's vessel for the metaphor of isolation. Strange places, massive amounts of people in a single space, all contribute to the idea of a specific 2 people that met in a strange circumstance that culminated in a perfect storm of friendship and resolution.

January 27, 2016 at 1:33PM

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Sofia Coppola is worshipped in this house.
She is the ne plus ultra of a uniquely American alienation - this film, SOMEWHERE and THE BLING RING form one of the greatest series of films ever made about celebrity, the mundane business process of fame, and its human complications.
I love that people think this film has ANYTHING to do with/say about Japan is funny. "Japan" is a metaphor people.

May 30, 2014 at 8:49PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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marklondon

^ lol, ever the expert has spoken

May 31, 2014 at 6:07AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Tanner

Yep. Any other questions?

May 31, 2014 at 7:06PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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marklondon

lol. He's like a mouth on a stick

May 31, 2014 at 8:36PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Tanner

I have to say, im shocked how many people try to find out or speculate over what was whispered. That is completely missing the point! It is between them and not for our ears that is why it is such a powerful moment ffs... Whenever i watch any analysis on the film i always switch off or skip the bit when people turn the volume up to ridiculous levels, you are doing the film a disservice. If we know what was said it would take away from the moment.

June 1, 2014 at 3:50PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Andrew Black

I always thought that she was paying homage to her father's work in respect to the scene in the Godfather where Don Corleone grants a favor to and you see the man whisper in his ear, but don't hear what he says. The scene in Lost in Translation just seemed to me like she was saying, "Hi Dad, here's my tribute to what you created both in cinema and in my life." Probably reading too much into it.

June 2, 2014 at 12:35PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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awesome piece! you guys might enjoy taking a look at some more (blueray) hidef stills of the film here: http://hostcreativegroup.com/124th-stills-from-cinema-lost-in-translation/

June 2, 2014 at 9:05PM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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I can´t deal with the narrator´s creepy voice...

June 3, 2014 at 5:34AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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Joachim

best cordless circular saw 2012

June 3, 2014 at 5:55AM, Edited September 4, 11:56AM

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