DVD TIME INDEX: 0:00:00 - 0:01.00*
SYNOPSIS: A Focus Features film logo. A semi-naked buttocks. Some production credits. A title. Fade to black. "Welcome To New Toyko International Airport". These are our first moments of Lost In Translation.
ANALYSIS: Well, what can you say? In the space of exactly one minute (according to the slightly skewd PAL video timing), Lost In Translation doesn't so much announce itself as gently impress upon the viewer. It's the tonal difference between "Kelly" and "Charlotte", a hard rock number and a piece of soft jazz, champagne versus wine. In one minute, the film quietly declares its genius and rolls forward, as if having done nothing at all. This is an oddly disquieting, yet mesmeric and joyous, beginning. No concessions are made to explain or clarify. That a viewer will either "get it" or not is simply assumed. But I'm not backbiting -- quite the opposite. The opening almost seems to function as a test. If you get this, you get the lot. If there is a "relationship" between a film and a viewer, then LIT starts as it means to go on, with something very beautiful, indeed.
It seems Sofia Coppola was lucky to get Focus Features distributing this film in Europe and America (is that correct?). And why? Their logo seems to organically fit the fabric and feel of LIT to a tee. It's the most serendipitous union I can think of since 20th Century Fox and Star Wars, whose own film logo and music is sublimely rousing and perfectly accentuates the old 1930's Hollywood feeling that's such a part and parcel of the Star Wars story and aesthetic. And here, with Focus Features and LIT, its the very opposite the logo courts, but no less perfectly -- a subtle, hazy, dreamy, almost brooding atmosphere. As the fuzzy blue-yellow discs undulate in the background, I'm reminded of the very delicate blurring and play of lights at various points in LIT. Similarly, the name "Focus Features" fades on much as the film's own title is about to. The title could even be a command: FOCUS. On this FEATURE. That's what film is all about. "The small details", to quote Rutger Hauer.
Of course, the segment that's probably going to get the lion's share of this discussion is the scene of "Charlotte" lying on the bed. It's our first true glimpse of LIT. It *is* LIT. I put "Charlotte" in quotation marks because there's no direct proof it's her. You might say it has to be, but I think the more salient aspect is that it's an objectified glimpse of feminimity -- or, more generally, something a little exotic (at least, in the manner it's depicted). You don't have to agree with any of this, by the way. This is simply my interpretation of things. Yours will necessarily be different, even if it ends up being the same. There are a lot of ways to approach this. I mean, if this scene or shot is "exotic", why is that? What purpose is it serving to LIT as a whole? At different times, Sofia Coppola has said it's just something she felt like doing and doesn't really mean anything, or it's a homage to the opening shot of Stanley Kubrick's "Lolita" and the paintings of John Kacere, or it's a glimpse of feminimity (as I've already stated above). It really is everything and nothing.
But I do find it oddly provocative. Not as pornography or anything like that (per se), but for the way it seems to be consciously designed (despite Sofia's reluctance to disclose specific filmic intentions) to push certain buttons. Here's what I wrote in my review for IMDb:
Sofia Coppola chooses to open her second picture with the unexpected appearance of Scarlett Johansson's semi-naked buttocks. On the big screen, it's impressive, and on any other screen, it manages to entice. But this is just the beginning. In many ways, it doesn't even seem that. The image is seductive but dislocated -- it's just there. Then the title credit appears: "Lost In Translation". It's like Coppola is having some massive joke at our expense. What's there to translate about such a sight -- much less to lose in translation? We're immediately intrigued by the voyeuristic nonchalance of it. It is this same casualness, hiding real intent, that shapes and sustains the picture. For at its heart, "Lost In Translation" is a hypnotic tone poem for desire and the need to reach out and find meaning. The butt-image functions as a motif: in the bold sensuousness, yet comic randomness of it, we are being made to lust for something -- but we are at a loss to make sense of it, just as the film's characters find themselves lusting for things they can't readily define.
Without wishing to blow my own trumpet too much, that's still as good a description as I can muster. But there are lots of layers here.
I remember a discussion on the IMDb LIT board (eek!) about the specific style of this shot and nature of the composition. In its evocation of John Kacere (do a Google Image search), it aspires to still photography, yet is part of a motion picture, "living" at 24 pictures per second. There is a deliberate tension. We clearly see the subject shifting her weight. We HEAR it. But it's almost imperceptible. Even that aspect seems to set up so much of what is to follow in LIT. In a departure from Kacere's paintings, Sofia's composition is also less sexualised. And less fetishized. Or perhaps more so, paradoxically, through being less so. Kacere seemed to have an affinity for laced garments, frumpy bums and bright lighting. There is a loudness and a brashness to his own versions that seem alien to LIT's. The subject is tamely dressed in a kind of bored "middle class" jumper over a white "student" t-shirt. The pink panties are the exception. But none of the colours leap out at you. The shot is defined by pastels and has a soft malaise about it.
It's great to see those titles, by the way. I love the font used for this movie. I don't know what it reminds me of, but I'm sure it reminds me of something. Maybe it's a trick. I like the subliminal effect. Notice how the pre-LIT credits are positioned just above the subject's body. Like a deliberate attempt was made to not interrupt the butt. Or even the girl's slumber. The main LIT credit breaks this rule. Even to the point of music suddenly kicking in. Interesting choice. It's like the film is dangling a carrot in front of you. It gives you a LITTLE time to process what you're experiencing, then it cuts you off. No, sorry. LOST IN TRANSLATION. It's quite a bold summary of the artistic process.
I've come up with this dense analysis, but I haven't even commented on the sound design. Or the last few post-butt seconds (can I work this joke much longer?). OK, I think you actually HEAR LIT before you SEE it. The first thing you hear is some traffic. A motorbike engine displacing the air? Then a siren, but not an overbearing "this is a siren" foley effect like normal. Those are the sorts of sounds, in such "indoor" conditions, a film would normally make sure to filter out. Yet here we have "rules" being "broken" at the very start. It's like Sofia is saying: "This film is real life. Get used to it." But, of course, it ISN'T real life. It's a film. A shadow on a wall. Art. Not life. But art reflects life. And maybe this is her way of near-subconsciously clueing us into both these ideas at once. It has a closeness to real life that most films don't, yet it's STILL a film. I love that.
After the title, there is another fade. An inversion of the opening fade. It's almost like we haven't just seen what we've seen. The film wants to hide itself away and start again. Almost like we're being tricked and toyed with again. The sound design takes precedence here, telling the story of Bob's arrival in beautifully sleek fashion. It's not necessarily a compression of narrative time. Maybe it's what Bob is imaginging in his head. Half experiencing, half dreaming. Ergo, we're already getting closer to these people than most viewers get to most characters in most films. "Charlotte" and her panties while asleep (or trying to get to sleep) and Bob's jetlagged monologue. We are already accepting these characters through a weird kind of osmotic absorption. We are now primed for the actual "story".
Just some thoughts to kick us off. Please pick up on, expand, contradict, ignore and talk about whatever the hell I've just said said and whatever the hell you want. This is the true start of our "Chapter By Chapter" project. Let's make it a good one!