CHAPTER 4: Suntory Time

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CHAPTER 4: Suntory Time

#1 Post by Cryogenic » Tue Oct 27, 2009 2:51 pm

CHAPTER 4: Suntory Time

DVD Time Index: 0:08:47 - 0:12:16*
*PAL timing





SYNOPSIS: We pan across a group of people looking restless. We appear to be in some kind of film studio. The camera continues panning and settles on Bob Harris, sat in some kind of makeshift study, wearing a tuxedo. An older Japanese man is issuing instructions to another. The younger man responds with simple affirmations. The older man finishes and walks off. The atmosphere is terse. The young man nervously strides forward. He begins issuing his own instructions to Bob Harris. Bob smiles awkwardly, trying to appear amenable to the young man's instructions. The translator, Miss Kawasaki, steps forward and tells Bob that the young man, clearly a director, wants Bob to "turn to camera". Bob is unconvinced and asks if that's all the director said. The translator offers a non-consoling "yes". Bob proceeds to seek clarification, asking if the director wants him to turn from the right or turn from the left. The translator nervously steps forward and begins speaking to the director at great length, and at great speed, in heavy Japanese. She seems to be relaying a disproportionate level of information. Bob is bemused. Barely letting the translator finish, the director responds with annoyance and addresses Bob directly, appearing to berate him for a lack of time. The translator steps back to Bob and says, "right side, with intensity", and Bob asks with greater incredulity than before, "is that everything?" The director speaks to Bob once more, with intense passion and much arm movement, appearing to articulate things that the translator has not, and will not. The translator simply says, "like an old friend and into the camera". Bob gives up: "OK". The director again addresses Bob, speaking to him as if Bob needs little or no translation, as if translation is just a formality. The director seems to have more passion than all the others in the room combined. Bob again acknowledges: "OK". The director turns to him, as if they're great friends, and says conspiratorially, "OK?", forcing Bob to respond with contrition a third time. Finally, the director walks back to his starting position, shouting at the film crew in a hoarse voice, and declares action. The room falls silent as Bob composes himself and reaches for a glass on a table next to his chair. He takes it and turns to the camera with a sense of meaning: "For relaxing times, make it Suntory time". The director sceams "cuto" and storms over to Bob. He hoists the bottle of whiskey that's also on the table, and lectures Bob at close quarters. The translator is at Bob's side once more: "could you do it slower and with more . . . intensity?" Bob gives an unctuous nod and wink to the director. The director points conspiratorially at Bob: "Suntory time!" Bob sighs as the director walks off. The director barks at the film crew for action once more. Bob lifts the glass more slowly, pensively, and makes a series of distracted, almost derisive, blinks to the ceiling, as if searching for an emotional thread that doesn't exist and can't be created: "For relaxing times, make it Suntory time." The director screams "cuto" again. Bob's mascara-ed eyes shoot daggers to the director as he furrows his brow.

ANALYSIS: That's the longest of all the synopses, thus far. I thought about writing a shorter one, but I couldn't see a more reasonable way of capturing the various beats of the scene. In many ways, the Suntory shoot is the least visually captivating of all the DVD chapters, but that's a superficial assessment -- the scene is embarrassingly awash with visual and other textual information. I had to watch the chapter several times in order to compose the synopsis, and as I did so, I noticed many things I hadn't quite consciously thought about before. I sense that this is going to be a running theme for most of the CBC discussions. Significantly, this chapter appears to be the most dialogue-heavy of all the chapters. If you were to do a word count, I expect that this chapter would come out on top. Of course, the majority of the words would be Japanese words. Ironically, this chapter probably has some of the fewest English words of any chapter! Quite simply, it's dominated by Japanese language, and a specific kind of Japanese hegemony, though Bob is clearly the star of the show (or is it the highly animated Japanese director? or maybe even Ms Kawasaki?).

What I really like about this chapter is the interplay between the director and Bob. As I tried to show in the synopsis above, the director and Bob have a special dialogue going on, and it makes the scene, from my perspective, at least, very entertaining and very funny. The director seems to presume that Bob actually knows some Japanese, since he delivers a ton of spoken commands, elaborations and visual cues in Bob's direction, and even exhorts the importance of Suntory whiskey in a very personal fashion after the first take, going up to Bob and appealing to Bob with a kind of intimacy he seems desperate to create. Finally, there are his multiple "OKs" and other gestures to Bob, which almost take the form of a parent who is overly confident that their child has understood and will now do as requested. The director treats the translator, and the translation, as an afterthought, while the translator, for her part, seems to carry over this sin of presumptuousness, compressing the director's wishes to a ridiculous degree. In a way, a light form of comedy and tragedy seem bound up in this chapter. If Bob actually understood the director, particularly his Humphrey Bogart/"Casablanca" citation, he would probably deliver everything the director wants, and more. Instead, because the director and the translator seem to presume too much, they get very little.

At this point, it's incumbent upon me to steer all readers to the translation hosted on this very site: Knowing what's actually said heightens my appreciation for the chapter. There you will find the "Casablanca" reference, as well as the father/child analogy. You will also see that the director starts by telling Ms Kawasaki, "the translation is very important, OK? The translation." Perhaps that's a red herring put in by Sofia Coppola to frustrate my very aims in studying it! But assuming, for the time being, it isn't, one possible explanation for the director seeming to not care about the translation is -- far from the director being totally ignorant about the huge disparity in length between what he says and what Ms Kawasaki says -- that, after Ms Kawasaki's first aside to Bob, the director may be given to thinking that Bob really doesn't need much steering. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to go from there for the director to be under the impression that Bob is already familiar with the Japanese language. And besides, aren't some of his (the director's) comments in English, anyway? That's one interpretation, at least. The translator, or "interpreter", as the translation has it, is also said to speak to the director in "very formal" Japanese, while the director is said to speak to the interpreter "very brusquely". In her deference to the director, who also insists that they are short of time (a position reinforced by the Suntory officials watching from the side, no doubt keen to see their money used wisely, and when you're rolling film and using people, equipment and sound stages, time is money), it might well be that the interpreter's eagerness to not disgrace herself and to appear expedient means that she is excessively truncating the translation so that things can keep moving. Otherwise, one might simply have to consider Sofia Coppola's depiction here as a little, well . . . extreme. But maybe that's just what it is -- no more, no less.

A particularly coy piece of mise-en-scène is the study that Bob is being filmed within. Is this not art imitating life? Is Lydia not building Bob a study? Are the carpet samples she's about to send not burgundy? Poor Bob. His real life and his fake life are inextricably linked and as one. This chapter, therefore, has a slightly dark undertone, to my way of thinking. Bob is trapped. What's happening here is just a microcosm of his existence. Being ordered. Being berated. Being patronised. Being scrutinised and depended upon. Being told to be passionate, intense and sincere when he's in an uncomfortable situation at odds with encouraging subtle reverie, or in the words of the director, "ecstatic emotion". It's pretty much all a**-backwards for Bob. But now he's here and he's going to have to deliver. Eventually. Interestingly, the scene cuts away and is not directly conjured again. We'll never know if Bob delivered or not. Presumably, the Suntory people got a satisfactory take from Bob and all was well. Or they didn't. One telling detail -- or not -- is the combination of soft focus and a wider angle used for the first take. We are subliminally drawn into Bob's cheesy invocation and the anodyne world of the commercial. This is a really neat touch, and one of my personal favourite shots of the film. It contrasts well with the second take. The former take seems to be about synergy, where Bob's identity is subsumed in service of the Suntory aesthetic. The latter shot is more about Bob himself, I think. There's more than a hint of truculence and rebellion in the second take. Watch as Bob raises his eyebrows before he goes to take a sip from the glass. This might be said to have implications for the LIT picture itself. Bob is going to get worn down, doing "take" after "take", or "shot" after "shot", and we're going to approach a more "real" and "honest" Bob as the film progresses. Or something like that, perhaps. Like all the CBCs, this is merely one idea I'm floating out to the board.

I cannot end this analysis without saying a little bit about the costuming. We have a mixture of people dressed in different ways, all working for one end -- the promotion of an alcoholic beverage. That's a slightly funny conflation, though not out of the ordinary, per se. However, the scene does seem to reveal something about the different statra of contemporary Japanese society. At the top, so to speak, are the business people dressed in suits. Literally, the suits. They're probably "old school" Japanese men. Then you've got the younger people, all presumably media people and film people of one sort or another. The director epitomises this dramatic shift in social mores. He's got long, dyed hair; orange-tinted sunglasses (indoors, in a relatively dim setting); a loose, open, striped shirt; a necklace; a black leather jacket; denim jeans; and a million rings on his fingers. Ms Kawasaki seems to be a bridge between the two. She's dressed more formally, but she's also got dyed hair; jewelery; a scarf; and a pale, short-sleeved top. The Westernization of Japan can be keenly felt watching LIT. When the director speaks to the translator, he could just be doing what people of a higher social standing are allowed to do -- namely, talking down to the other person. However, I think it's because he's of a different generation and mindset, and he seems to talk "brusquely", not because he can belittle another person, but simply because he seems to have little or no time for tradition. If he's as Bohemian as he looks and acts, then he might see the conventional way of doing things as a hindrance, so dispenses of them whenever he can. Of course, Bob is laid out in the most formal wear of all. In the director's words, Suntory is an "exclusive" whiskey, and the fabricated environment is made to reflect that. Clearly, this is a product (and a real-life one, of course) geared to older men; this point alone must exacerbate Bob's sense of growing old; he's in this situation, promoting this product, *because* he's this age and not any younger.

A final thought concerns the director's translated speech to Bob when he elaborates on the "passion" he wants from him: "What you are talking about is not just whiskey, you know. Do you understand? It's like you are meeting old friends. Softly, tenderly. Gently. Let your feelings boil up. Tension is important! Don't forget." This wryly seems to sum up the film. Bob isn't just in Tokyo for whiskey, as it turns out, or rather, will turn out. No. The latter portion of the director's speech could apply directly to Bob's relationship with Charlotte, and even the mechanics of the film itself. The feelings of the film, or the feelings that the film engenders in the viewer, tend to "boil up", and the tension, especially on a first viewing, when most of one's emotional attachment is formed, is predicated on the question of whether Bob and Charlotte will consummate their relationship or not, and the film exploits this carefully, or "softly, tenderly. Gently," as it carefully rolls forward. As an extension of this observation: the contrast between what the director is trying to evince from Bob and the director's histrionic style is almost a kind of auto-critique by Sofia Coppola. Her father, Francis Ford Coppola, is known for his larger-than-life, dogged directorial style, while Sofia has adopted a more internal and quiet approach, establishing the kind of emotional tenor she seems to want from her actors first in herself, and this scene seems to poke some fun at the notion that there's only one way of directing a film, or that verbally assaulting your stars is the path to success when subtle moods are called for. A very good film, this. Very good, indeed.

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#2 Post by hannidan » Sat Nov 07, 2009 10:12 am

I've read that one of our greatest anxieties is the fear of being publicly judged. In this scene we have the Santory exec's (who are judged by their superiors) judging the director, (obviously feeling the pressure), and poor Ms. Kawasaki who is not about to draw any unwanted attention upon herself. All this lands on the befuddled Bob, sitting in an absurdly short chair, without any direction and being asked to perform. We, as viewers, can't help but empathize and this draws us emotionally into the hilarious scene. A scene that further characterizes Bob's disconnect from this foreign society.

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#3 Post by Hibiki » Mon Nov 16, 2009 9:10 pm

I will add more to these topics as I'm a huge LiT fan, but I thought I would add this here...

If you've ever wanted to have a little relaxing time of your own, the bottle on the table next to Bob is Suntory's Hibiki (yes, hence my username) 17 year old blended whisky.

It's one of my favourites, really soft and rounded, very balanced in flavours. I add a drop of water just to lessen the alcohol heat.

The only downside is, it's about £60 a bottle in the UK at the moment, or about £7 a shot in any bar you're lucky enough to find it in. The good news though is that Suntory (and Japanese whisky in general) is really making a big push into the market place in both the UK and US, and there's a new Hibiki 12 year old going into mainstream shops. It's cosmetically very similar in the bottle shape, but half the price...

The whisky as seen in the film can be bought from The Whisky Exchange, here -

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#4 Post by SaitamaSteve » Sat Dec 05, 2009 6:13 pm

I should have a reply ready later tomorrow, hopefully.

But as for Hibiki--it's absolutely great, but it's hard to get my hands on it, living in Los Angeles. I'll have to put in an online order once I save up the scratch. Or just the next time I go to Japan. :P

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#5 Post by Cryogenic » Sun Mar 14, 2010 10:59 pm


Thank you for the responses, guys. I'm a little dismayed more haven't got stuck into the extant chapters since I last posted. On the other hand, I guess there are more reading and not saying anything. I suppose this thing has a little fan base, and one should take what they can get ! ! The announcement of a new book on LIT in the other forum kick-started my desire to talk about this wonderful film some more! Who knows? I might even post some new chapters!

OK, one thing I wish to add -- which I only recently discovered -- is a linguistic term: brown study. Check this page out:

So, it seems we have another layer to this scene. Bob is physically and mentally "in a brown study"! That's pretty neat.

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#6 Post by Pitman » Wed Dec 08, 2010 9:23 am

I really enjoy reading your Chapter by Chapter analysis. I hope you continue on. You know, you could even turn this into a book and have it published. Your writing is so good. I particularly liked how you synopsized the chapter.

Please do another chapter! :)

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#7 Post by TokyoGirl » Wed Dec 08, 2010 3:45 pm

I second that, I hope you continue with them. I just read them through again the other day.
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#8 Post by Too Young » Sat Jun 01, 2013 1:07 pm

Hello, I'm new and I have enjoyed reading these but looks like you wrote these over 3 years ago.

I hope you come back and finish them some day, I'm sure others would too.

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#9 Post by SunsetOdds » Thu Jun 13, 2013 5:17 pm

I would also love to see more of these!

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#10 Post by samwright8380 » Wed Jun 19, 2013 1:05 pm

I wish I'd contributed more to these discussions at the time they were written but unfortunately i didn't have the time. It would be great to continue.

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Re: CHAPTER 4: Suntory Time

#11 Post by MoreThanThisToo » Mon Sep 14, 2020 3:30 pm

I feel like I’m walking through the ruins of an old city of “my people”, and here stands a partially built cathedral. It is wonderful to see, but also a bit upsetting that the city has ceased.
"The more you know who you are and what you want, the less .. you let things upset you."

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Re: CHAPTER 4: Suntory Time

#12 Post by redleader74 » Wed Nov 11, 2020 8:05 pm

MoreThanThisToo wrote:
Mon Sep 14, 2020 3:30 pm
I feel like I’m walking through the ruins of an old city of “my people”, and here stands a partially built cathedral. It is wonderful to see, but also a bit upsetting that the city has ceased.
sounds like it's time to rebuild! :D
私は ”ロスト・イン・トランスレーション” です。

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