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INT: Sofia Coppola

We did not get to participate in a junket for this highly-praised film (c'mon Francis, pick up your phone dammit!), but seeing as LOST IN TRANSLATION is definitely one of the more unique and refreshingly different movies of the year, we thought we'd post this interview with director Sofia Coppola anyway (from the press kit), since it does answer many of the questions that you might have had about the film, and provide insight into what she wanted to accomplish with it.

Walking into the room, Sofia looked over at me and said "Oh my God, are you really JoBlo...from the website?" Surprised, slightly taken aback and let's face it...horny, I replied: "Why yes, that's me." I couldn't believe what happened next as she leaned over and...well, then I woke up with my face in the keyboard again and continued to type out this interview below. By the way, it's to note that Sofia's dad is famed director Francis Ford Coppola, her cousins include actors Nicolas Cage and RUSHMORE's Jason Schwartzman and her husband is director Spike Jonze. Nice!

SOFIA COPPOLA

Q: Sofia, the vantage point of a young woman has been a constant in the work you’ve done so far. But here, working with Bill Murray, you explore the older man’s as well…

…and he’s having a midlife crisis in Japan – where it’s already so confusing. In the film, Charlotte is having that early 20s, “what do I do with my life” crisis. She and Bob are two people at opposite ends of something comparable; she’s just going into a marriage and he’s on the other end, having been in one for years. There is camaraderie between them at the moment in time that they’re at. It’s two characters going through a similar personal crisis, exacerbated by being in a foreign place. Trying to figure out your life in the midst of all of that…I always do that on trips, just start to think of these issues when I’m away from home.

Q: What was the genesis of the idea for LOST IN TRANSLATION? Did it come from a specific trip?

It was inspired by spending time in Japan in my early and mid-20s. I went there six or seven times over a couple of years. Just from spending time there, being in the Park Hyatt Tokyo, I wanted to do something set in Tokyo, and I liked the idea of how, in hotels, you keep running into the same people. There’s this sort of camaraderie even though you don’t know them or even talk to them. And, being foreigners in Japan – things are distorted, exaggerated. You’re jet-lagged and contemplating your life in the middle of the night. Also, I love Bill Murray and I really wanted to write something for him showing his more sensitive side – what you felt a little bit of in RUSHMORE, I wanted to see more of that side. And there’s just something funny about being stuck in a situation that you don’t really want to be in.

Q: The Park Hyatt hotel that you stayed at, that’s the one in the movie, right?

Yes, although I didn’t stay there when I was younger because it was expensive [laughs]…I stayed there a few times later on. There’s something very specific and odd about that hotel. The city is so chaotic and here’s this silent floating island in the middle of Tokyo. They have the “New York” bar and a French restaurant – but it’s the Japanese version.

Q: Had you gone to Japan to write the screenplay, or for further inspiration?

I didn’t write it there. I’d been there a lot and had my photos. A lot of the places in the movie are places I’ve gone. My friend Charlie Brown always takes me around. That’s his nickname; his real name is Fumihiro Hayashi. I met him a long time ago and he has a fashion magazine there. Charlie is in LOST IN TRANSLATION, he sings “God Save the Queen”; he always sings that, and that was one of the first images I wanted to make a movie around. I did go back a year before we shot, with friends, and videotaped anything that looked interesting and worked on the script after that. Some of that stuff I did put into the script: staying in the hotel and seeing the “aquaerobics” in the pool and having the shabu-shabu dining experience.

Then there are these advertising campaigns that you see in Japan: American actors endorsing products and being a little bit embarrassed about it. I’m affectionately poking fun at it; I don’t look at it as hypocritical. It’s just so weird to be in Japan and to look up and see Brad Pitt selling coffee, and see a Brad Pitt head floating in a vending machine. It’s one of those out-of-context things in Japan, like a replica of a French café.

Q: This film was made entirely on-location in Japan. How does a purely American filmmaking team plan on and prep for such an adventure in an exotic break from the familiar – especially as an independent feature with a modest budget?

It was a big adventure. One of things I love about Tokyo is that it’s so different than being in Europe – much more foreign and unfamiliar with regard to the culture, the language. Everything’s different, even getting the groceries. There’s different rules and traditions that you learn as you go. We got there a little bit in advance. There were about eight of us from the U.S. and the rest were local.

Respect and honor are central to Japanese culture. We wanted to do it more Japanese style, not walk in and say, “Well this is how we do it in America.” However…I remember when we were at the shabu-shabu restaurant, we were only permitted to shoot ‘til 4:00 P.M. We went about 10-15 minutes over, and the owner pulled the plug – pulled the lights out. We were disrespecting the owner because we weren’t done. The location manager felt we had dishonored him, too.

Q: You were on a tight shooting schedule of 27 days, including 6 days a week.

Lance [Acord - cinematographer] and I had both spent time in Tokyo and like the look of the city. There’s a spontaneity that we wanted to include – I wanted the informality of running around and taking snapshots. My memories of being there are snapshots. He wanted to be quick and non-invasive, and not to have to light it. We were stealthy; we relied on people in the streets being our extras. The camera was very small and portable. You’re not allowed to shoot in the subway; we had to keep moving so we wouldn’t be stopped – to get those shots it was just me, Lance, Scarlett, and 1-2 other people.

We did steal a lot of shots on the streets. But, one day, my brother Roman was shooting second unit and ran into some Yakuza. They said we’d have to pay up, because they have their neighborhoods. And that was the end of that neighborhood for us. Our crew helped us navigate and steered us away from other Yakuza neighborhoods.

 

Q: Many independent filmmakers would have opted for DV or HD. But you remained committed to film. How was that discussed?

We were encouraged to consider DV, but I wanted the movie to feel romantic…like a memory. Film does that. With the high-speed film stock [Kodak’s 5263] that we were using, we could go anywhere, not light it and just shoot. Film might not be around that long, so we wanted to shoot on film while we still can. It has the nostalgic and romantic feeling of the past; that’s how I remember things, through film and photos. Film gives a little bit of a distance, which feels more like a memory to me. Video is more present tense, there isn’t that stepping back.

Q: What with all the Japanese crew, liaisons, featured actors, et al., were there alternate modes of communication?

It was like that scene in the movie where Bill’s doing the commercial and it takes 10 times longer because of the translation. And we were always in a rush, so just talking to an extra in the background became a project.

Q: What was it like working with Bill Murray?

It was everything I hoped for – fun to be in Tokyo with him. He’s enthusiastic, great with the crew, hung out with everyone. He’s great at improvising, and added so much to the scenes.

Q: Giovanni Ribisi had worked with you before, as the narrator of THE VIRGIN SUICIDES.

Yes, and I’ve always wanted to do something with him in front of the camera. To me he’s fun in this part because usually he plays more serious roles. He’s one of my favorite actors.

Q: What were Giovanni and Scarlett told about their characters’ marriage?

We did some rehearsals together in L.A. so they would have a familiarity between them. I talked to them a bit about it in our rehearsal.

Q: And what were the parameters set with Bill and Scarlett for Bob and Charlotte’s friendship? Is it just a friendship?

It’s supposed to be romantic but on the edge. Those relationships you have in real life – a little bit more than friends but not an actual romance. They get each other and it’s flirtatious. They both know it’s not going to go anywhere. To me, it’s pretty un-sexual between them – innocent and romantic, and a friendship.

Q: The karaoke selections in the film are so specific. Who chose them?

Brian Reitzell and I picked these together. It was hard to find songs for Bob, especially as he’s letting loose for the first time. At a karaoke booth, Bill Murray and I were talking about Roxy Music, and I asked him to sing “More Than This.” He did, and I thought it was so sweet I asked him to sing it as Bob in the scene. Luckily, we got permission to use the song.

Q: At the other extreme, Anna Faris’ rendition of “Nobody Does It Better” lays waste to the song – did she have to be talked into that?

No, and that’s why I’m impressed by Anna – she’s totally up for anything. She cracks me up; she’s fun to watch.

Q: The music for the film is unusual in that it’s two musicians doing it. How are they working together?

We didn’t really end up having a composer. Brian Reitzell and I had worked together on THE VIRGIN SUICIDES; he plays drums with Air. He made me “Tokyo dream-pop” compilations to listen to while I was working on the script. We ended up using a lot of that in the film.

Q: With LOST IN TRANSLATION, you’re taking audiences to an exotic and teeming city in a very private manner. Often hushed and intimate despite all the hubbub. Were you able to steal moments like that for yourselves during production?

Friends would take us to little hidden bars and alleyways. That’s the fun of Tokyo, if you know someone who lives there. There are little hidden places that change all the time. I enjoy finding new places there and looking around. I haven’t been back since we finished shooting. Looking at the movie now, finishing it up, makes me want to go back. I look forward to showing the movie to our crew there.

Q: What would you like audiences to take away from their experience of watching the film? A mood? A moment? A specific emotion?

I can only say why I wanted to make the movie: to convey what I love about Tokyo and visiting the city. It’s about moments in life that are great but don’t last. They don’t go on, but you always have the memory and they have an effect on you. That’s what I was thinking about.

Source: Focus Features

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