Sunday, November 09, 2003

Lost In Translation
A while ago, I finally got to see Lost in Translation, but I never actually wrote anything about it. It's become sort of required viewing in my grad program, given the number of grad students and professors both who used to teach English in Japan. Pat, the student advisor for the ELC, is half-Japanese, as I mentioned before, (all her relatives live in Sendai,) and she described it accurately as being a movie not so much about Japan as it is about foreigners' perceptions of Japan.

I thought it was very interesting. It reminded me a lot of first arriving in Japan for the Tokyo orientation. For the orientation, we were staying in two huge hotels in Shinjuku, which is an area of Tokyo that seems like every stereotypical Tokyo movie scene ever made: high-rise office buildings covered in huge advertisements and neon signs. I only went out of the hotel on one night, and it was overwhelming. I had no idea where any of the streets went, or how to find somewhere to eat, or really what any of the stores were selling.

The characters in Lost in Translation are in that state, constantly. One of the other grad students who is an ex-JET, Christine, said she read a review about the movie in which the reviewer criticized the characters for wanting to stay in their hotel rooms listening to headphones in one of the largest cities in the world. Christine, though, pointed out that it was actually a very realistic portrayal of how many people react to finding themselves in Tokyo. Everything in the movie, the disconnectedness of the scenes, the occasionally unstable camera work, the untranslated Japanese, the panning shots of extremely crowded and busy scenery, all of it brings a person back to their first days in a big city in Japan, if they've ever been there. People who haven't been there tend to find the movie weird and kind of pointlessly confusing, but that's what the movie is trying to evoke. The movie isn't meant to make everyone want to take a vacation in Tokyo; it's meant to show the reactions and emotions of two confused visitors trying to make their way around.

Of course, the contrast between the first days I was in Tokyo for orientation and the subsequent 3 visits I made there is huge. When I was there over New Year's with my family, I thought nothing of going off by myself to a conbini to get dinner on my own when I was tired of getting Italian food to keep my brother from being convinced he was going to get food poisoning again. Nor did I have much problem navigating the intertwined subway and train system to get back to the hotel from halfway across the city. When I first got there, I would have done anything to avoid either of those things. It's interesting to try comparing how I felt when I first got there, and then later. At the time, I didn't notice, because it was just all part of the same process of living in Japan.

It's also amazing how many places in the movie I could recognize from only having been there 4 times, for just a few days each time. Riding the train around in Tokyo and getting off at some of the major stations really shows you a lot of the places that show up in movies over and over. All foreigners end up going to all the same places in Tokyo, it seems. I think Mark started getting tired of me whispering, "I've been there!," over and over.

I recommend the movie to everyone, whether you've been to Japan or not. If you've ever been to any foreign country and felt out of your element, you'll get it. It's fun!

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