Lost in Translation or Cultural Appropriation?

By: Shelby Halliman

Recently, in my film festivals class, we watched Sophia Coppola’s second feature film, Lost in Translation. During our discussion, my professor brought light to the argument that some people believed that Lost in Translation undermines the cultural significance that is celebrated in Japanese society. I think otherwise.

Official Poster for Lost in Translation.

Upon listening to this argument, it dawned on me that the people who are in favor of this argument may only take the film at face value, meaning that they do not look past what is shown to them in this film. While searching for what other people said about the film, I came across an article that was particularly interesting because this thought could be applied to many different films aside from this one. The article argues that the characters in the film are actually exhibiting qualities of people who are actually experiencing the idea of culture shock. It goes on to underline the presence of different cultures and practices as being prevalent aspect of society.

“It is not only a process of recognition of the elements that differ in the culture that seems strange, but also of learning and adaptation that should start before the direct contact with that same culture”.-Sandro Cantante

Link to the article is below:


Continuing the argument made in the article, the first phase of culture shock is recognition. Coppola illustrates the characters portrayed in the film in a very interesting light. They are curious and adventurous characters. While they are exploring Japan, both characters had a willingness to learn about the culture and partake in a means of cultural expression that also allows them to learn more about themselves. I believe there are a lot of films that are mistaken to portray signs of cultural appropriations. This is a very interesting and complex argument because people have to be able to admit that they may have little knowledge when attempting to immerse themselves in another culture. It is okay to not understand; however, especially in this film, I believe people striving to adapt and learn about culture really says a lot about their character.

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2 Responses to Lost in Translation or Cultural Appropriation?

  1. mediaphiles says:

    I like how you took a common criticism of this film and challenged it, arguing that the “cultural appropriation” might actual be characters trying to adjust to culture shock. It’s a very compelling argument, and I think I agree with you.

    -Meg Schmit

  2. mediaphiles says:

    Having been a Japanese student for 3 years, I totally agree with you. I watched the film and thought the depiction of Japanese people and culture was completely accurate with what I learned in the culture segments of my classes. If anything, the argument could be valid since Bill Murray’s character teases the Japanese characters, but honestly, that’s just because Bill Murray’s character is supposed to be a depressed dick who’s funny. That’s what funny jerks do. Plus, there was a great scene where he was being laughed at by two women in the hospital while one woman was trying to hold a conversation with him. They’re all laughing together because she’s asking him “How long was your flight to Japan?” and says “fly” over and over again as if he’ll understand. Bill repeats the word and makes the same motion without understanding what the woman is saying and he ends up just looking like an idiot. It’s a great scene, and totally undermines the cultural appropriation argument and supports the culture shock theory.

    – Russell Lawrence

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