Study Guide

Lost in Translation Introduction

Advertisement - Guide continues below

Lost in Translation Introduction

Release Year: 2003

Genre: Drama

Director: Sofia Coppola

Writer: Sofia Coppola

Stars: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson

You don't have to be vain to think this movie's probably about you. Because it is about you…and just about everyone you know. Lost in Translation is all about that feeling of being, well, lost. We’ve all had it.

Just to be clear, we're not talking about being physically lost here. We're talking about being mentally and emotionally lost—lost in the "What the heck am I supposed to do with my life?" sense, not in the "We must've passed that Panda Express" sense. We've all had that moment (or month, or year, or all of high school) when we really, really wished that life came with some sort of instructional manual.

In Lost in Translation, Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) are two Americans in Tokyo who are both sorely in need of a spiritual game plan. He's an aging has-been Hollywood actor there to make a quick 2 million bucks shooting a whisky commercial and hating himself for it. She's a newlywed and recent Yale grad accompanying her photographer husband and trying to figure out what she’s supposed to do with her marriage and the rest of her life.

They're both lonelier than a vegetarian at Medieval Times—until they strike up an intimate, once-in-a-lifetime friendship forged by their shared feelings of isolation and alienation from the rest of the world. It doesn’t help that they’re in a foreign country where they don’t understand what the locals are saying to them and they’re awake when everyone else is asleep.

Family Business

The film, shot for roughly $4 million (i.e., a pittance), was the second feature film written and directed by then-32-year-old Sofia Coppola. Yes, those Coppolas. Her legendary director father, Francis, is the guy behind the Godfather trilogy and Apocalypse Now. Her mother, Eleanor, is a documentary filmmaker and author. Her brother, Roman, is a screenwriter (Moonrise Kingdom). Oh, and her cousins are Jason Schwartzman and Nicolas Cage.

No pressure there.

Lost in Translation, which draws, in part, from Coppola's own experiences as a listless young newlywed, was released on September 12, 2003. It would go on to make more than $119 million worldwide and rack up a handful of awards and nominations, winning Coppola the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, and the Golden Globes for Best Screenplay, Best Picture (Comedy or Musical), and Best Actor (Comedy or Musical).

Is it really a comedy, though? That's hard to say.

Lost in Translation blurs the line between happiness and heartache, between laughs and longing, between—okay, you get it. That complexity is the movie's not-so-secret weapon. It feels real. Bob and Charlotte's two weeks together in Tokyo are bittersweet but buoyant. Their time together may be brief, but it's overflowing with enchantment for two thoroughly disenchanted folks who realize that they're not alone in the universe, or even in the Park Hyatt Tokyo.

What is Lost in Translation About and Why Should I Care?

You don't have to move to Japan or take Honors Linear Algebra to feel misunderstood. You just have to be a living, breathing human being.

Bob’s way past the prime of his career; Charlotte’s just out of college with her whole life ahead of her. But they’re both going through similar existential crises. That’s Coppola’s way of telling us that everyone has those moments of feeling lost, feeling that the world is just untranslatable and confusing.

Lost in Translation captures that raw, relatable feeling of restlessness and examines whether or not feeling more detached than a ticket stub is just part of being an adult.

Man, we hope not.

Even if it is, though, the film gives us a hint about how to manage it: find a friend. A friend who gets you, who you can be your own vulnerable self with. Connect with people honestly, do something, and eventually things might fall into place. Withdrawing, playing it safe, and watching life go by isn’t gonna get anyone anywhere. Coppola manages to convey all that without hitting you over the head with motivational speeches or clichés.

This is also a film that underscores the importance of timing. Bob and Charlotte meet each other at the perfect time and, as a result, make a crazy-tight, life-changing bond. They're both lonely, dissatisfied strangers in a strange land. Lost in Translation illustrates the idea that so much of our happiness in life hinges on random events, like being in the right place at the right time.

Now, if you'll excuse us, we're going to go loiter in front of Steven Spielberg's office and hope that the right time strikes real soon. We have a screenplay we think he'll want to take four hours out of his day to read. Star Wars Episode X: The Shmoop Strikes Back.

Got a nice ring to it, doesn't it?


What's with the opening butt shot? It's based on a painting by American painter John Kacere, who liked painting women’s butts and painted many, many of them. Seriously. He painted so many of them that we don’t know which particular work of art inspired that opening shot (source).

Sofia Coppola wrote the screenplay with Bill Murray in mind, and said she wouldn’t have made the movie if she couldn’t have gotten him to play Bob for the measly amount of money she could afford to pay him. She called up everyone she knew to try to reach him and persuade him to talk to her about it. It worked. Murray figured if she was so committed, he’d give it a go (source).

Don't tell the Japanese police, but most of the street and subway scenes were shot without a permit. We're no Japanese lawyers, but we're pretty sure the statute of limitations is up anyway (source).

No matter what anybody says, the character of Kelly is not based on Cameron Diaz (source).

The actress who voiced Lydia was actually the production’s costume designer, Nancy Steiner (source).

Lost in Translation Resources


The Official Website
Focus Features' site is full of blurbs and Blu-ray links.

Lost in Translation on IMDb
Dying to know what type of sound mix the movie used, or who played American Businessman #2? Here's a great resource.

We Are Awake
The premier Lost in Translation fansite since 2004—and it shows.

Articles and Interviews

"Sofia Coppola Discusses Lost in Translation on Its 10th Anniversary"
The director dishes on the making of the film with Marlow Stern of The Daily Beast.

Bill Murray Interview with Charlie Rose
Murray tells Rose what his Oscar speech would've been like.

Sofia Coppola Interview with David Letterman
Yep, her dad totally showed up on set to give her advice.

Roger Ebert's Review
Ebert hoists Lost in Translation into his pantheon of "Great Movies." (So, yeah, he gave it a thumbs-up.)

15 Found Facts About Lost in Translation
Trivia and tidbits from the Mental Floss crew.

Behind the Camera
A “making of” article by some serious film people interviewing the director, co-producer, and Scarlett Johansson.


The Lost in Translation Trailer
For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.

Bob and Charlotte Meet
The good news is, the whiskey works.

A Secret Goodbye
Nope, we don't know what Bob whispers, either.

Sofia Coppola on Getting Bill Murray to Do Lost in Translation
It's about as difficult as you'd imagine.

Bill Murray Teaches Japanese
Who do you think you're talking to, Short Legs?

Sofia Coppola Winning Best Original Screenplay Oscar
Coppola picks up the film's lone Oscar.

Bill Murray Winning Best Actor Golden Globe
"I would thank the people at Universal and Focus, except there's so many people trying to take credit for this, I wouldn't know where to begin."


Roxy Music – "More Than This"
The incredibly cringeworthy official video for Bob's poignant karaoke jam.

The Pretenders – "Brass in Pocket"
The far less creepy official video for Scarlett's karaoke song. Make sure you stay for the "specials" in the diner.

The Jesus and Mary Chain – "Just Like Honey"
And here's the official video for the song that plays when Bob walks away, probably forever.


Dueling Movie Posters
One featuring Bob, one featuring Charlotte. Seems fair.

"Sofia Coppola Releases New Behind-the-Scenes Photos from Lost in Translation"
A gallery of pics released by the director in 2014.

Coppola and Bill Murray on the Streets of Tokyo
Just a director and her star out for a stroll.

Scarlett Johansson on Set
Scarlett, look out! There's somebody behind you!

This is a premium product

Tired of ads?

Join today and never see them again.

Please Wait...