Films & Architecture: “Lost in Translation”

  • 12 Jun 2012
  • by
  • Films & Architecture

The second film by Sofia Coppola was acclaimed by the critics, and with fair reasons. It shows in a subtle but deep way the contrasts between Japanese and American cultures, utilizing the amazing city of as a background for this.

Characters are immerse in a quite different environment, which atmosphere is shown through the scenes where they interact with the foreign surroundings. This atmospheres are represented in a way beyond the typical approach of other films, trying somehow to really understand how this spaces are perceived.

As always, we wait for your comments about the movie and specifically about this culture shock concept and architecture.


Original Title: Lost in Translation
Year: 2003
Runtime: 105 min.
Country: United States,
Director: Sofía Coppola
Writer: Sofía Coppola
Soundtrack: Brian Reitzell
Cinematography: Lance Acord
Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris, Akiko Takeshita, Ryuichiro Baba, Catherine Lambert


Bob Harris (Murray), an aging American movie star, arrives in Tokyo to film an advertisement for Suntory whisky, for which he will receive $2 million. Charlotte (Johansson), a young recent college graduate, is left behind in her hotel room by her husband, John (Ribisi), a celebrity photographer on assignment in Tokyo. Charlotte is unsure of her future with him, as she believes he takes more interest in his celebrity models, most notably a young and popular American actress named Kelly (Faris), than he does in her. At the same time, Bob’s own 25-year marriage is tired and lacking in romance as he goes through a midlife crisis.

One night, after a long photo shoot, Bob retreats to the hotel bar. Charlotte, sitting at a table with John and friends, notices Bob and has a waiter bring him a bowl of snacks from her table. Later, Bob and Charlotte have brief encounters each night at the hotel bar, until Charlotte invites Bob to meet up with some local friends of hers. Bob accepts and arrives later at her hotel room dressed in clothes that appear to be designed for a younger generation. Meanwhile, the two begin a friendship and bond through their adventures in Tokyo together while experiencing the differences between Japanese and American culture, and between their own generations.

On the penultimate night of his stay, Bob attracts the attention of the resident vocalist. The next morning, Bob awakens to find the woman in his room, having apparently slept with her. Charlotte arrives at his room to go out for breakfast only to find the woman in his room, leading to conflict and tension over a subsequent lunch. Later that night, during a fire alarm at the hotel, Bob and Charlotte reconcile and express how they will miss each other as they make one more trip back to the hotel bar. On the following morning, Bob is set for his departure back to the United States.


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Previously posted on this section…

Cite: Portilla, Daniel. "Films & Architecture: “Lost in Translation”" 12 Jun 2012. ArchDaily. Accessed 25 May 2015. <>
  • Lawrence Bird

    Actually this movie was harshly criticized by some people with experience of Japan (I’m talking profs of Japanese and East Asian Studies). They said it caricatured Japanese culture. They have a point. But in a lot of ways the film’s not about Japan, but about the in-between, no-place situation we find ourselves in in large hotels, tourist districts, airports. Taking part in an international culture that doesn’t really have any cultural grounding anywhere, even if it’s festooned with signs of culture.

    Don’t mean to be a downer about this film as being about “Japanese culture”, but just to underline that that term is a tricky one! Which matters to architecture I think. This film is much more relevant for an understanding of the kind of spatial conditions OMA and others are interested in — generic space. Or perhaps space understood as some kind of interplay between semiotics and economics. With the individual life thrown in there, caught up in situations that undermine their sense of place in the world. So they’re not coming to terms with another culture, but with a situation in which that (or any) culture itself is problematized. Perhaps a deeper kind of “culture shock”?

  • Delay in Reporting

    Ummm this movie came out in 2003….

    • David Basulto

      Some things don’t get obsolete, and still inform people after years ;)

  • the.rkitekt

    While I do greatly love this movie and it is probably one of the strongest western representations of Tokyo as a city, it captured a Western experience in Japan that I did not experience. I myself interned in Tokyo and experienced a vastly different Tokyo. Of course we all expereince different factors, but its interesting to listen to people who expereinced the exact same instances as from the movie.

    Its one of the few movies that I “feel” much of Tokyo as I felt it when living there. Its captured a sense of the city without relying heavily on tourist locals (I would not say the constant flahing of Shibuya intersection is overkill in the movie as it too ended up being a sort of hub of transit where I’d initially meet up with friends).

    And its by shear coincidence that I had this movie on last night in the background as I developed a proposal for a site in Tokyo.

  • duck

    actually “enter the void” is much more architectonical

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  • Stavros

    Daniel Portilla, it’s very poor form for a writer to just copy and paste the plot straight out of wikipedia. Have you actually seen the film?

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