CHAPTER 3: Charlotte Can't Sleep

Discuss Lost In Translation in a more structured way. We follow the DVD chapters and create a new thread for every chapter. This is an ongoing project.
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Cryogenic
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CHAPTER 3: Charlotte Can't Sleep

#1 Post by Cryogenic » Sun Aug 09, 2009 7:11 pm

CHAPTER 3: Charlotte Can't Sleep

DVD Time Index: 0:06:09 - 0:08:46*
*PAL Timing

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SYNOPSIS: A girl rests pensively against a membrane of neon. Her thoughts are interrupted by sounds of snoring. She tries lying with the man who's making them, snuggling up to his person, but the snoring resumes and the girl wrests herself away, sitting up with a wearied expression. The screen goes black and is quickly flooded with light. A long curtain is opening. It is day time. A man suddenly rises from a sleeping position. We're back with Bob Harris. Bob takes a shower, but he can't raise the shower head high enough. A Tokyo vista, a phone ringing, a voice answering. We're back with the girl. Her partner has just taken a call and must leave for work. The girl gives a brief acknowledgment, then sits up and glances at the window. Then the girl is sat against it once more. Back with Bob in an elevator. The girl is there, too. Bob yawns, clearly tired. He looks around for attention, finally getting eye contact from the girl, who cordially smiles then looks away. The elevator arrives at her floor and Bob watches her leave.

ANALYSIS: This is a relatively lean chapter, yet it manages to cram a surprising amount of detail into its sparse duration. In essence, director Sofia Coppola and editor Sarah Flack manage to weave a density of information into an otherwise trifling and unremarkable chapter. It was tougher than expected to write the "synopsis" because of this. There are several jumps in space and time that make a literal explanation difficult. One moment, Charlotte is against a window ledge, then she's suddenly in bed; one moment Bob is reacting to his curtains automatically opening, then he's taking a shower, then we've gone from Bob to Charlotte, then we basically jump-cut from Charlotte looking at the window to Charlotte sitting there; finally, and just as suddenly, we're in an elevator, in the most drawn-out shot of the chapter. The film has an almost imperceptible series of internal rhythms, which implies great thinking. I like the fact that we're getting a paucity of explanation, but also a ton of contrasts and little details -- the things I hold to be so important in the visual medium of film.

The most significant "story" things to say about this chapter are: 1) We can now put a face to the bum, 2) We see the lovers glimpsing each other. But I think it's too much to say that we're necessarily introduced to Charlotte or that the glance between Bob and Charlotte marks their first encounter. There is a kind of distanced quality to the way both of these elements are depicted. While we're with Charlotte, we don't really know too much about her as a person yet (or even her name). On the other hand, some might say that we learn plenty. Film is a subjective experience. But I'm going to stand by my opinion because I sense the film is holding back, even as we get a lingering sense of Charlotte's ennui (e.g. two window shots) and her troubled relationship with her husband. To me, the film not only has an organic quality, but seems to possess a human restraint, mirroring the emotional attitudes of Bob and Charlotte. It says a lot with a little, revealing things in careful increments. To briefly elaborate on the second element, I will say that the significance of the lovers glimpsing each other has a double meaning. A later scene reveals that Bob recalls this episode while Charlotte does not. Put another way, this last scene/shot shows something that means something to one character, but is only a trivial, everyday happening for the latter, with no emotional value to buoy her memory. It seems to sum up audience response. This film either matters because everything means something or it doesn't matter because nothing means anything.

If this chapter "flies under the radar" in many ways, I hope I'm saying there is plenty of substance to it, too. Yin and yang. One thing that always seems to make an impact -- at least, for this viewer -- is Lance Acord's beautiful photography. Right at the start of this chapter, we get what I would consider one of the most effective visuals in the whole of LIT. After a momentary view of Tokyo at night (a sumptuous visual), the camera sharply refocuses to reveal Charlotte looking out from behind her hotel window. It does this in sync with the sound of John's snoring, which has the palpable effect of putting us in the mind of Charlotte. For want of a better description, we "feel" her break in concentration. LIT has many synesthetic moments like this. But this may be one of the most effective (at least, to me). The sound design is excellent, too. Sirens whir in the background, creating a strange ambiance. One LIT fan on IMDb has actually developed a radical interpretation and claims that Bob is having a "near death experience" and LIT is this reality in cinematic form. If this is true, the sirens could ostensibly represent the scene of a car crash (there are references to car crashes in LIT), or maybe Bob on his way to hospital in an ambulance. It's a provocative idea. But even if this interpretation is rejected, the sound design is still brilliantly done. Consider Bob's shower. The sound of the water lashing out is, by far, the loudest foley effect in the chapter. Just as the camera refocusing gives us the feel of being Charlotte, so does the loudness of this effect, I think, bring us into Bob's world. Incidentally, I don't know how credible the scene of Bob struggling with the shower is. Can he truly not raise it higher? While watching the scene for this analysis, I also noticed that his shower head doesn't appear to be screwed on properly and is leaking water.

In many ways, actors are the least important aspect of a motion picture. For the best directors, actors are just another tool, like a powerful lamp or a clapperboard. For all their human appeal and innate talents, actors are ultimately subsumed into the fabric of a film in service of its themes and ideas. They don't matter. And yet they do! Getting the right people and the right performances are paramount. LIT excels here. Giovanni Ribisi gives incredibly true-to-life reactions in the bed, rousing and falling back into slumber with great timing. Similarly, I really like how rushed and flustered he looks as John heads out the door. It was a good choice to have him carrying a camera (and another item?) as he leaves, even though he's already wearing a backpack. To me, John also has a slightly-too-old-complexion-for-the-clothes-he-wears vibe about him. He looks and feels slightly awkward, at all times. Bill Murray also shines in the elevator scene. He is tasked with presenting a series of fluid reactions and ticks in a tricky scene. I like how Bob's yawning is slightly exaggerated. Notice that he seems to crave some basic human reciprocation. He over-amps his yawning in the hopes a little girl, a child, will notice him; a cute moment, but also a sign of desperation, I think. Bob then catches the eye of Charlotte, who only glaces and smiles at him for a second before looking away, nervously looking down then up again. Bob is foregrounded in this scene, drawing our visual and mental gaze to him, and it's clear from the way he continuously watches Charlotte after she smiles at him that there are various qualities bubbling under the surface of Mr Harris -- hope, intrigue, lust. Because of moments like this, I personally lean on this film being more about Bob than Charlotte. Everyone has their own opinion, though. And it's probably academic.

This chapter also takes a pretty radical approach to speech, giving us the true flavour of LIT. What's said and what's not said punctuate silent spaces and riff off each other; and so little *is* actually spoken. In fact, I think the spoken lines comprise a handful of words. Notably, Bob doesn't speak any words. His only sound is the exclamation of "ouch!", which is symbolic in so many ways. John, on the other hand, speaks the first words of Japanese from a non-Japanese character. However, his pronunciation is hilariously bad. From what I understand, "Moshi! Moshi!" is a standard phone greeting in Japan, and while the "o" sound is different to English, John's poor articulation sounds closer to "Mushi! Mushi!" which doesn't mean anything, except to note that a single "mushi" means "bug" or "insect". Oh, dear. The joke really is on the American characters as much (if not much more) than it is the Japanese. If it isn't clear in this chapter, LIT will have John saying "Mushi! Mushi!" in an even sillier context shortly. Neither this paragraph nor an analysis of this chapter wouldn't be complete without noting the first spoken words of the chapter: "Are you awake?" There! I said it! Bob will later fax Charlotte the same question. Rhetorically, it may be the most important question LIT asks. In essence, are we awake to the world, to ourselves, to each other? I sometimes think about that. It may be one of the things that makes LIT such an engaging and soulful movie, for me. On the other hand, it's tough to try and break the film down like that. It's not any one thing or group of things -- it's the whole package. I might be preaching to the choir with that last one, though, right?
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LostCalls
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#2 Post by LostCalls » Sat Aug 15, 2009 2:19 am

Quick thing about Bob's experience with the too-low shower head that I don't think I've seen anyone mention in this forum. I believe--though am not one hundred percent certain--that there is at least a type of shower common in Japan in which the bather is intended to sit down on a little stool in the shower stall rather than remain standing. If the bather is supposed to be seated, the shower head would not have to be raised as high. That could be the case in Bob's shower, and, if so, would reveal (subtly) yet another moment in which the joke is actually on the Americans rather than the Japanese. I think Bob recognizes that he's up against a cultural force that he can appreciate if not fully understand. Cf. his later line in response to Charlotte's question about switching the r's and the l's: "They have to amuse themselves...'cause we're not making them laugh." And yet again, I've jumped into a different chapter.

John is definitely not awake (as if that were ever in question). He doesn't even know whether the scarf Charlotte is knitting is done or not. This to me is a really existential issue. There's no precisely quantifiable way to know whether an object such as a knit scarf is long enough to be "done"; a more innate understanding that supercedes the logical is needed. I don't know that I feel John has a look that's too old for the clothes he wears and the manner he displays. Were that the case, I think it would imply some greater awareness on John's part--a conscious attempt to behave younger or hipper or even more awkward than he really is--that I don't feel he actually has. Sure, he later concedes that Kelly and her ilk are stupid, but he rebuffs Charlotte for suggesting as much and ultimately takes the side of the obvlivious extrovert ("Not everybody went to Yale") over that of his more subtly nuanced and discerning wife. More anon.

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#3 Post by SaitamaSteve » Sun Sep 13, 2009 8:42 pm

I realize I said the same thing about the last chapter and never actually got around to it, but I'm a big fan of the opening chapters and just got struck by a massive LiT mood. I'll do my best to contribute to this one before you move on--I really enjoy these discussions.

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#4 Post by SaitamaSteve » Mon Sep 14, 2009 8:39 pm

Bravo on the analysis thus far, it's inspired to me to rewatch the film tonight. I feel guilty doing it so much, almost as if it's a drug or some such dangerous ism, but it feels so right when the mood calls for it.

I can't add a tremendous amount of insight to what you've already milked out of a seemingly uneventful chapter, but I must say I agree with your point about the film having an organic quality that ties into character's emotions. As you noted, the film takes an unconventional route in addressing character's speech/dialogue, and this chapter executes that route with a professionalism and effectiveness that absolutely captivates me as a viewer. It feels almost uncomfortably real and that's where the film starts using that feeling of surreal nostalgia that has mesmerized us all. I recently wrote a thesis paper for a class on the city of Tokyo at USC, and made mention of that fact that--especially to foreigners--that the city doesn't appear to have a structured or defined geographical landscape--that the city appears to occur moment to moment as opposed to place to place. I believe this element of Tokyo is reflected in the film's style of arranging shots and scenes (and is very strongly reflected in the karaoke montage). It's a very unique and incredibly strong extension of the film's personality--tapping into "awake" moments as opposed to submitting to some linear structure that would hold back the points Coppola is trying to get across. The film just feels so alive because of it.

Anyway, sorry for the rant, just had to jot my take down while I was feeling up to it Please continue this great discussion, whether it be this chapter or the next.

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Cryogenic
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#5 Post by Cryogenic » Sat Sep 19, 2009 8:46 am

LostCalls wrote:Quick thing about Bob's experience with the too-low shower head that I don't think I've seen anyone mention in this forum. I believe--though am not one hundred percent certain--that there is at least a type of shower common in Japan in which the bather is intended to sit down on a little stool in the shower stall rather than remain standing. If the bather is supposed to be seated, the shower head would not have to be raised as high. That could be the case in Bob's shower, and, if so, would reveal (subtly) yet another moment in which the joke is actually on the Americans rather than the Japanese. I think Bob recognizes that he's up against a cultural force that he can appreciate if not fully understand. Cf. his later line in response to Charlotte's question about switching the r's and the l's: "They have to amuse themselves...'cause we're not making them laugh." And yet again, I've jumped into a different chapter.
When I was writing my analysis, I tried verifying this fact, but I didn't come to a satisfactory conclusion. As I said, I think the joke is definitely on the American protagonists as much, if not a great deal more, than it is the Japanese, and this should become more and more obvious as we go. Your remark about Bob has set a few cogs moving: "I think Bob recognises that he's up against a cultural force that he can appreciate if not fully understand". There does seem to be an inherent frustration in Bob, mirrored by what could be called his implicit understanding that he doesn't understand, while, perhaps, wishing he could. It seems one could easily extend this paradigm to his life. He's reached a point where he's sort of, well, bobbing around (pun intended), up against things he gets in a general sense but is hopelessly lost at grasping and understanding in subtle and meaningful ways.
LostCalls wrote:John is definitely not awake (as if that were ever in question). He doesn't even know whether the scarf Charlotte is knitting is done or not. This to me is a really existential issue. There's no precisely quantifiable way to know whether an object such as a knit scarf is long enough to be "done"; a more innate understanding that supercedes the logical is needed.
Yes, and the issue isn't really about John lacking the discernment to say whether Charlotte's scarf is done or not. In fact, it's not even about Charlotte asking him a question about it. It's about his inability to realise that Charlotte is testing his engagement in their relationship, and his commitment to her, throwing out a meaningless question to see if he intuitively understands it''s meaningless or not, and why Charlotte is really asking. Of course, John fails, utterly.
LostCalls wrote:I don't know that I feel John has a look that's too old for the clothes he wears and the manner he displays. Were that the case, I think it would imply some greater awareness on John's part--a conscious attempt to behave younger or hipper or even more awkward than he really is--that I don't feel he actually has. Sure, he later concedes that Kelly and her ilk are stupid, but he rebuffs Charlotte for suggesting as much and ultimately takes the side of the obvlivious extrovert ("Not everybody went to Yale") over that of his more subtly nuanced and discerning wife. More anon.
Well, in the context of what you said about John and his attitude to Charlotte's disdainful snubbing of Kelly's intellect, might it not be the case that John is actually oblivious to how awkward he is, which could easily extend to the clothes he wears? Maybe this is negative prejudice against John on my part and nothing more. I don't know. In some ways, I like the character. He's a sort of happy-go-lucky young hipster, but that is also the very persona that damns him, at least in the context of the Tokyo narrative and his relationship with Charlotte.
SaitamaSteve wrote:I recently wrote a thesis paper for a class on the city of Tokyo at USC, and made mention of that fact that--especially to foreigners--that the city doesn't appear to have a structured or defined geographical landscape--that the city appears to occur moment to moment as opposed to place to place. I believe this element of Tokyo is reflected in the film's style of arranging shots and scenes (and is very strongly reflected in the karaoke montage). It's a very unique and incredibly strong extension of the film's personality--tapping into "awake" moments as opposed to submitting to some linear structure that would hold back the points Coppola is trying to get across. The film just feels so alive because of it.
Firstly, thank you for the compliments, Saitama. And now allow me -- those are some great observations! The "Going Out" passage is actually my favourite in the entire film. And I love it for precisely the reason you've just outlined. SC captures the spontaneity of "living in the moment" in a subliminal way. Underneath, you can actually see a very strong structure, but above, and not in a fake way, but in a way that justifies the underlying structure, actually, there is an authentic sense of moments randomly occurring, and of things just coming and going, brushing into each other, gliding past, fizzing and fading. I will, of course, elaborate on this when I get to the relevant chapters. :)
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#6 Post by silentguest » Mon Sep 21, 2009 4:52 pm

What strikes me about the opening chapters is how templates or patterns of action are established and reenacted through out the film. Like a musical composition the themes in the opening movement are replayed with variations:

Bob being chauffeured around Tokyo.....the Suntory people always on hand to greet or escort him.....staring at the TV.....someone always engaging him at the bar.....Charlotte gazing out the window, turns to see John asleep; the same thing happens during the taxi ride with Bob.

First morning: Bob in the shower, Charlotte looking out the window.
Last morning: Bob looking out the window, Charlotte in the shower.

The first time he sees her, Charlotte gives a quick smile to Bob, looks up at the floor indicator, and disappears behind closing elevator doors leaving him standing with a group of Japanese people.
The last time he thinks he's going to see her, Charlotte glances at Bob, looks up, and disappears behind closing elevator doors, leaving him standing with the Suntory people.

The action repeats yet doesn't feel repetitive. Some of the gestures are almost exactly alike but become imbued with more intense emotion as the film progresses.

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#7 Post by hannidan » Sun Oct 04, 2009 10:29 pm

I love the ways you guys have addressed the Charlotte scarf question.

Questions like this and their many variations, "do you like the new carpet, room color, my dress, my watch" etc are really about whether you're going to be part of their life and care about what they care about. John's "I don't know" ( the worst answer) means he's not aware and doesn't even care. He's got his back turned to his wife and rushing to collect his gear to leave the room. Charlotte's looking for a connection with her husband and doesn't get it.

As far as John's awkwardness, I wonder if it isn't almost required (for the story to work). How would it look if John was super cool (whatever that is)? Then John's distance from his wife would seem cruel. This way, we're watching a really odd marital mismatch. John's not being mean, he's just being........John and he's really different from Charlotte.

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#8 Post by SaitamaSteve » Sun Oct 25, 2009 8:53 pm

Great observations, can't wait for the next chapter.

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#9 Post by Pitman » Tue Dec 07, 2010 9:02 am

The thing I found funny about the elevator scene was the little girl looking like she has to go pee so badly. Also, when Charlotte exits the elevator, you can still see the back of her purse and she never quite leaves the scene.

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