Sofia Coppola’s 2003 gem Lost in Translation is often cited as one of the best films of the decade, a movie that is even liked by many viewers who cannot stand Coppola’s artistic vision in general. Indeed, it is the crowning jewel of Coppola’s filmography which has other significant projects such as The Virgin Suicides and Marie Antoinette.
Lost in Translation is also fondly remembered by fans because it contains one of Bill Murray’s greatest performances as a fading movie star who journeys to Japan for an appearance in a whisky advertisement, unable to land major roles like he once used to. Drifting away from his family and former life, he finds himself isolated in the urban labyrinths of Tokyo.
While marooned at his luxurious hotel, he encounters a young girl (played by Scarlett Johansson) who is experiencing similar feelings of urban isolation and alienation after recently graduating from college and getting married. This specific character was written on the basis of Coppola’s own life and the autobiographical accounts of her own marriage which led her to the neon jungles of Tokyo.
“I spent a lot of time in Tokyo in my 20s and I really wanted to make a film around my experience of just being there,” Coppola revealed in an interview while talking about that period. “That was the starting point. I got married not long before and kind of felt isolated. I was in this stage where I wasn’t sure if I’d made the right choices or what I was doing in the post-college beginning of my adult life.”
Drawing from multiple sources of inspiration and her own life, Coppola managed to construct a moving tale about the fundamental isolation of human beings within the framework of modernity. Her characters are trapped by the performative nature of their positions in their respective social domains, unable to break out except for those brief moments of refuge and relief in karaoke bars.
While writing the film, Coppola was thinking of other cinematic masterpieces such as David Lean’s 1945 film A Brief Encounter in addition to a very specific project that her father had undertaken with Akira Kurosawa. Francis Ford Coppola had actually flown to Japan to star alongside Kurosawa in whisky adverts as well, attempting to raise money for the Japanese master’s next project. This ended up becoming a chief source of inspiration for Coppola’s Lost in Translation.
Watch behind the scenes footage from Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation below.