Free Essay

Lost in Translation

In: Social Issues

Submitted By harper03
Words 1081
Pages 5
Lucy Parkhurst
Dr. Thombre
11/5/13
Intercultural Movie Review
When thinking of intercultural communication, the movie that comes to mind is Sophia Coppola’s “Lost in Translation”. Bob Harris, played by Bill Murray, is an American actor who visits Tokyo, Japan to film an ad for whiskey. Bob, away from his wife and his familiar western environment, experiences isolation, loneliness, and sleeplessness upon entering Tokyo. He is constantly frustrated, due largely in part to his understanding of what others, such as a film director, restaurant waiters, and prostitutes are trying to convey to him in Japanese. In the midst of all this, he meets Charlotte, an American woman who like him, is lonely because her husband is more interested in his photography work than her. Due to their shared loneliness and feelings of isolation and culture shock, Bob and Charlotte become friends, and begin a relationship through respect, trust, and self-disclosure. Bob and Charlotte become a mirror to each other, as both try to sort out their identities and how proceed from their own relational crossroads. While the audience may wonder throughout the movie if Bob and Charlotte’s relationship will ever become romantic, it is plain to see that they learn lots about themselves and each other as a result of being outsiders in this new and unfamiliar culture.
The most evident intercultural concepts I noticed in the film is culture shock, language, and identity. The first concept, culture shock, is explained in our text as “the psychological and emotional reaction people experience when they encounter a culture that is very different from their own” (Oetzel, 126). This concept is noticeable within the first few scenes, when you see the main characters, Bob and Charlotte, feeling excluded in this foreign environment. For example, in the opening scene the audience sees Bob in a taxi appearing sad and miserable as he takes in the Japanese culture and environment. Next, during an interaction with the people who have hired him for a commercial in Japan, Bob makes a comment “short and sweet; very Japanese”. The showers in the hotel are too short for him, the only television programs are Japanese, and we see Bob feeling emotional and geographical dislocation from the western environment he is used too. There is very little interaction between Bob and the locals, no translation of the spoken Japanese, and often, Bob and charlotte ridicule the host culture, which shows how uncomfortable and alienated they feel. At one point in the film, Bob and charlotte finally reach the stage of adjustment, which is described in our book as “sojourners have gained a level of competence in the new culture. We begin to feel truly comfortable and function well in the host culture although we may still experience periodic difficulties and strains” (Oetzel, 128). The audience sees this when Bob and Charlotte begin mingling with the locals, and even sing karaoke with them, regardless of the language barrier.
The second concept apparent in the film is the use of language. Immediately there are feelings of exclusion and evidence of stress due to the language barrier. When Bob is at a photo shoot for Japanese liquor, the director tells his translator that Bob needs to sit up straighter. Bob looks confused because the director seemed to say much more than that, but the translator only told him very little. Another language barrier is when Bob’s boss hires an “escort” in attempt to make bob feel more comfortable and relaxed. This gesture does the opposite, where because of the different language and customs, Bob ends up scaring the escort, and not able to understand why she is there and what she is there for. The only comfort Bob finds in the entire movie is the interaction he has with Charlotte, as she is an American who feels disconnected from her husband, who is a photographer for a Japanese company. Not only is the language different, but there is a large difference in the body language of the Japanese compared to Americans. There is less eye contact, lots of bowing, spacial distance and head movements. There is also a difference in business etiquette, where the shooting of a whiskey commercial was very intense and very demanding, and as I explained earlier, Bob’s boss sending his some “woman company”. The two are never able to overcome the language barrier, nor does it seem that they want to. With this attitude, they are unable to see and understand just how accommodating and kind the Japanese they interact with are.
The final concept that I observed throughout the film was identity. Social identity is described in our textbook as “aspects we share with other individuals who belong to the same perceived group” (Oetzel, 58). The book goes on to explain that “social identities in a particular situation take shape according to whom we are talking with and what we are talking about” (Oetzel, 62). Social identity is evident in Lost in Translation with regard to Bob and Charlottes relationship. Bob and Charlotte share a similar dissatisfaction with their lives; the spark has gone out of Bob's marriage, and he's become disillusioned with his career. Meanwhile, Charlotte is sad at how much her husband, john, has changed in their two years of marriage, and frustrated that she hasn’t launched a creative career, seeing as how she has a degree from Yale. By sharing these feelings with each other, they become fast friends, and one might wonder if they will ever become romantic. Our text states that “identity is expressed through a variety of nonverbal and verbal messages” (Oetzel, 63). This is very apparent in the final scenes, when Bob tells Charlotte goodbye at the hotel lobby shortly before checking out and sadly watches her retreat back to an elevator. While riding in a taxi to the airport, Bob sees Charlotte on a crowded street and he gets out and goes to her. Bob embraces Charlotte and whispers something in the tearful Charlotte’s ear. The two share a kiss, say goodbye and Bob leaves.
Lost in Translation is a beautiful film that is full of intercultural communication. Before watching it, I assumed it would be strictly about the characters adapting to time in Tokyo. What I realized and as you have read, the film is mostly about the interactions between Bob and Charlotte, and how they create a kinship to help them both to deal with life, both in Tokyo and their personal relationships as well.

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