Lost in translation was a Hollywood movie in 2003, following Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson’s strange and philosophical journey in Japan. It was somewhat popular at the time, but due to its slow pace and lack of any real action, it was the type of movie you either loved or hated. When I first saw it (before I started studying Japanese), I wasn’t really impressed. Now taking a look back it recently, I find it strangely enjoyable.
If you are studying Japanese, there is a high assumption you want to and will eventually visit Japan sometime in the near future. The theme of the movie is two foreigners lost in the Japanese culture and language.
Here’s why you’ll like it:
6. Japan’s English is shown at its peak of insanity
All Japanese people study English in junior high school and high school. The same way you studied Spanish or French. How well do you speak these languages a few years out of high school? 10-20 years out of high school?
And don’t forget that learning a Romance language for a native English speaker is significantly easier than learning English for a Japanese speaker. Oh, and they don’t really practice speaking in those classes. Oh, and Japanese people are also very shy when talking with foreigners. Oh, and they probably have never heard of your accent. Oh, and you just scared the shit out of them by stopping them on the street suddenly and bombarding them with English.
The result: obvious.
And the further you step away from Tokyo, the further you multiply this.
So the terrible English of the interpreter?
The “room service lady?”
And the ultra laid back camera man?
All there. For real. Okay, well not really. Definitely not really. But it’s good for a laugh.
5. Beauty captured
The first trip to Japan is really full of wonder and mystery. It is magical to most people, and you are left in awe. I just have never found someone visiting Japan for the first time say they didn’t like it. Or found it boring.
Scenes from riding the trains, running through video arcades, eating okonomiyaki, visiting famous temples, nicely captures that sense of wonder.
4. You probably are going at an uncertain time of your life
These days, many people visit Japan for the first time somewhere between the end of their college career and a few years after graduation. It is a time where you often question your life, what you want to do, your purpose, and other philosophical things of that nature. Which puts you in sync with what the main character goes through.
3. It shows you the importance of a sense of humor
Most of your preconceived notions of Japan are shattered when you step off the airplane. Things are different. Some very different. Some you will love, some you will like, some you will hate. You will agree and disagree with all different areas of the culture.
To maximize your enjoyment, it comes down to keeping a good sense of humor. You need to be able to laugh at all the disagreeable things that come your way. And Bill Murray shows you just that in a way that only Bill Murray can do.
2. It gets you excited about Japan and Japanese
Once you start studying Japanese, you like to see things about Japan. Especially movies. Most Hollywood movies that take place in Japan are pretty lackluster. This one is not.
1. Watching the movie dubbed into Japanese is mind blowing
The entire theme of the movie is about the two main characters being lost with the language and culture. Now imagine them speaking fluent Japanese. It changes the movie into a whole new and different dynamic, and one that I actually even prefer to the original. It just becomes surreal as the meaning of the movie is massively shifted around.
Now I know. It’s far from perfect.
It covers Japan from a foreigner’s perspective. In 2003. There are plenty of unrealistic things. Some beyond ridiculous. Okay, to be honest the whole movie is kind of ridiculous. Show these clips to a Japanese person, and they will either laugh or get slightly annoyed at the terrible depiction of Japanese people. It is a movie after all.
Have you seen it? What did you think about it? Did your view on it change after starting Japanese (or visiting Japan)?
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.