4/10/2006: TKO’ed in Tokyo

I spent two weeks in Tokyo before starting grad school, and it was one of the most memorable places I visited in my round-the-world trip. There’s something to Tokyo that everybody should experience at least once in their lives. Here’s some notes I wrote about Sofia Coppola’s movie Lost in Translation, which was filmed in Tokyo.


Lost in Translation (2003), 102 minutes

Ah, Sofia Coppola, who was raised from the dead like Lazarus after her character (and seemingly her Hollywood career) was killed in the last scene of her father’s disastrous Godfather III with her subdued and restrained directorial turn in her adaptation of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides. That movie seemed to explore, more than anything else, how many aspects of cinematic directing she could imbue with the qualities of “quiet and suggestive.” It also could be used as a great study of mid-century suburban America, in particular her handling of the landscape of contrasting claustrophobia/agoraphobia in the alternating landscapes of the typical suburban home placed in the vast spaces of intra-coastal agri-expanses.

With Lost in Translation, she seemed to gain the confidence to explore her hipster filmmaking with a looser and more unrestrained hand. Bill Murray, who has shown an almost completely singular steady professional ascension turns in a searingly memorable performance here as a washed up movie star pitching mid-level Japanese whiskey (in a scene so impressive I was compelled to reenact it when I was in Tokyo this summer). Sofia Coppola apparently wrote the role with Bill Murray explicitly in mind. If that is the case she certainly shows a talented touch with actors; she pulled a decent performance out of the otherwise painfully indistinct Joshua Hartnett in The Virgin Suicides and was at least partially responsible for launching Scarlett Johansson’s career by casting her in Lost in Translation.

Also, her touch in selecting music deserves mention: for The Virgin Suicides she commissioned one of the French band Air’s best albums as a soundtrack, effectively introducing the now popular band to American audiences for the first time. Here in Lost in Translation she coerced Kevin Shields (of the cultishly popular band My Bloody Valentine) out of retirement to record his first material in over 15 years, a move akin to somebody convincing Bobby Fisher to play chess again. She also continues to showcase little known French bands, this time selecting a song from the little known but devilishly catchy French-pop band Phoenix. The matching of sounds and scenes seems to be a particular talent for Sofia Coppola; she loves to juxtapose and match sounds to cinema-scapes. For instance, the contemporary French ambience-techno of Air played over the mid-century American suburban landscapes for The Virgin Suicides; the ethereal post-punk instrumentals of Kevin Shields layered over scenes of both the sterile corporate interior of the Park Hyatt Hotel and the neon chaos of metropolis Tokyo. It’s as if Ms. Coppola is trying to find the sound of a space.

It may be interesting to note that the field of cinematic sound editing offers certain insights into how we experience space; for instance, the processing of ambient sound directly correlates to shifts in scenes/spaces. The ambient sound of an empty hallway with doors closed is distinctly different from the sound of an empty hallway with doors open, and it is easy to imagine, though not necessarily immediately apparent, that the ambience sound (and what is termed as “presence” in film sound theory) and acoustic properties are much different between interiors and exteriors, and even between similarly sized interiors lined with different materials. We all know that various stereo receivers, through digital equalizers, are able to mimic the acoustic properties of spaces as varied as stadiums or small cafes. This is all studied and documented distinctly in film and may be an interesting point of study: how our sense of hearing alone affects our understanding of space and materials.

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One Response to “4/10/2006: TKO’ed in Tokyo”

  1. Photography | no ideas but in things Says:

    [...] to photography. I thought it was just, in the words of Scarlett Johannson’s character in Lost in Translation, “a phase that every girl goes through, you know, horses, taking pictures of your [...]

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