Symbols in the City
Postmodern multimedia attacks Tokyo—and our senses and sensibilities.
People lately either like this movie or hate it, and I think I know why. Unless you’ve actually felt the way the characters do, in your own environment or another…it’s very likely you won’t “get” it, because itis driven entiredly by emotion and reaction, as opposed to plot, and doesn’t really provoke you to reexamine things in the way a more “shocking” film might.
Then again, a lot of filmgoers don’t think at all, or empathize, hence the complaint that it is “boring”: it seems to me that LiT is 90% subtextual…almost evrything important in it is under the surface.
Also, I think that it’s important to note that before the Golden Globes and the resulting rerelease (oddly coinciding with it’s DVD release), these complaints were far fewer: almost no one had seen it but those who would understand it
Good angle on the film. I would go a step further (or backwards?), and say the dissonance of images in the film and communication problems between the Japanese and Americans is one more trope for the failure of communication between pretty much everyone but Charlotte and Bob Harris—most significantly between Bob and his wife and Charlotte and her husband. Charlotte and Bob could communicate with no one but each other, not even the people they were married to. No wonder they fell in love.
Of course, the author of this piece has probably already read this everywhere else :).
For me, this film was about two people who were “lost” before they met, “lost” as they flirted with what they knew would never be, and “lost” when they parted. Existentially, they were lost in the glare of Tokyo’s bright lights throughout the whole story. Is this a parable of our times?
I’d say that’s true, Van, but that by the end of the film these two characters were more “found” than most other characters in the film—at least enough to be aware of their lostness.
I found this article interesting. However, the intense multi-media background that swells around the characters of the film seemed to me to emphasize their being lost. Tokyo is painted as a strange land (which some critics wrongly called xenophobic and stereotyipical) to reflect that these two don’t fit. Bob is a head above everyone in an elevator. Charlotte is a strawberry blonde in a sea of black hair. They are the odd man out.
Also, technology is part of their problem, as it distances them from people. Bob’s has-been actor is plagued by his TV persona, and faxes from his wife. Charlotte is married to a photographer - a profession that requires a distance - that she can’t communicate with. She feels so disassociated that when she calls a friend back home, she cries, confessing she feels nothing - even when she should be moved.
In that sense, I can see how this film can be read as the plight of the common man so overwhelmed (or maybe distracted by) technology that he can no longer make personal/intimate connections. Thanks for the space to think about this…
I’ve just completed reading your comment on the movie “Lost in Translation” online at metaphilm.
I think your text would have been mutch richer if you’d look at the relations between Info-Tokyo and theese personal issues, -what occurs your “symbols” viewpoint merges with the standard perception of the film. I’ve found suprisingly few articles dealing with this online.
I agree with you, -Lost in Translation is sort of a comment to the postmodern info world, with Tokyo as the extreme. The scenery looks like New York (the nirvana for people who desire to live in the city) to me, just intensified with regards to neon lighting, and without the yellow cabs and other known symbols. The big-city surroundings obviously would imply that you’ve succeded. You sort of get the comfort of having achived city-life, without the need, or pherhaps ability, to interpret or reflect on the purpose/meaning of your surroundings. It reminds me of “Fight Club”, where the main character has achived his self-realization through buying IKEA furniture. IKEA beeing “the style with no style”, “the final style”, -a symbol of escaping symbols. Neautrality is the new loud, -state nothing and there will be room to do so.
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So I think Lost in Translation provides some sensation of releif, -time off from relating to objects and various symbols in our surroundings. The characters seem to achive the special relation because they are unconciously relaxed by beeing in the city, -due to ther inability to relate to the symbolic overload. The only thing they are able to grasp is that they are in a city, living life on the 100th floor, the city as a machine with thousands of people never stopping below them. It’s like Corbusiers idea for city planning in Paris. To enhance this the film seems to alienate Tokyo by adding the noisy people, underlining the language problem Bob (the caucasian middle-aged male, -symbolic in itself) has. Whenever we see Bob and Charlote relating to their surroundings, and then going back to themselves, they are like acting without and with a theathrical backdrop. I think it’s magical in the movie, how the characters seem to be able to not relate to their surrounding and only seem to see eachother. Nobody questions the good, the peak of postmodernism, the high-hotel, swimingpool, machine-like streets sci-fi style, -a complete world self-reliant, not depending on your attention at all.
START READING TWO STEPS BELOW THIS ONE.
Just like in Fight Club, Lost in Translation seems to deal with the desire for freedom from symbols/objects and expectations. Further it seems to make a point of the fact that relationships between people really require only small amounts of honesty to become intresting and challenging. How, or rather where, theese two meet, seem to free them from conversation that is cluttered with established norms(symbols if you like), -giving purpose and meaning. “An efficient relationship”. It is not only the fact that they are so far from eachother in age, but also the way their language is, that underlines this feeling of freedom. Simple, with fair pauses between lines. Often close to neutral in their voice (probably a characteristic of the actors). Lost in Translation isn’t filmed like other “lovestories” with focus on looks and chlichees. Instead it allows time/space for us as an audience, to reflect. Late in the film there is a joke that deals with symbols, where scarlett (with her voice (!) beeing neutral, -giving room for interpretation/questioning) asks bill if he’s bought a porche. Bills funny hawaii-shirt is also a joke which is of no importance (is only a minor point in the film, -discarded or unimportant after a few seconds attention), the same goes for scarletts pink hair. The characters deal with symbols in a ruthless/promisceous (i can’t find the word) way, where they are set aside or recive no value. Symbols are barley aknowledged, then set aside.
What I find intresting about it, is that it offers a nice moment, a portrait of a relationship between sexes and ages, all in a world that seems to have reached a breaching point when it comes to how mutch symbolic value we are able to handle. The freedom of beeing able not to relate consiously to surroundings, revealing human relationships without the usual fog of symbols.
I don’t know if you find my comment rewarding or not, anyhow, hope to read some of your stuff soon.
Robert Hanssen, thank you for you essay! Very interesting critique.
This is really a good analysis, Lost in Translation is one of my favourite movies of all time and you gave me some new insights on what the movie is actually about. Thanks!
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