Lost in Translation
IMDb Interviews Sofia Coppola and Scarlett Johannson
by Keith Simanton
Sofia Coppola is every bit as comely as that New York Magazine cover made her look. She does not look all that much like this, which she must have approved but God knows why; it looks like a page from a Hugo Boss ad portfolio. She's attractive, reserved but not shy, and approachable. Rumors of her stand-offish or surly behavior must have been started by bores.
Scarlett Johannson looks a lot like this, though her hair is spiky, and the color of Pipi Longstocking's hair, if Pipi Longstocking was a blonde. When I meet her she is carrying a "Hello Kitty" pillow around with her.
They're both at the Toronto Film Festival to promote Lost in Translation, Coppola's lovely follow up to the equally lovely, though more morose The Virgin Suicides. Lost, which was shot last November (02) in 27 days, also stars Bill Murray who really should be recognized for his performance as Bob Harris, a former action star filming a whiskey ad in Japan. Johannson plays Charlotte, the young wife of a rock photographer who has been abandoned in her hotel while he goes off on a photo shoot. The film chronicles their tentative romantic/platonic relationship. One thing that the film doesn't deal with is jet lag, something obviously affecting both star and director. They both look wiped out. "I just want to go home," says Johannson, not as a complaint, but as a solid statement of fact. Coppola is asked what the inspiration was for Translation:
Coppola: I spent a bunch of time in Japan after college. Someone asked me to help produce a fashion show, and I was dabbling in different things; I was doing some photo stuff. I loved going there. But there's a sense of dislocation there; plus you're jet-lagged. You can't read the signs or understand the language. But there's an energy there and it's constantly changing. I'll be, like, "Remember that great little bar" and they'll say, like, "Oh, it's not there anymore." It's really great to know people that live there because I don't know how you would find anything. There's no street names.
IMDb: What was the significance of Charlotte's trip to Kyoto and the tying of the paper...?
Johannson: It's a tree you tie your wishes on. And once you tie them on, they come true.
IMDb: Was there anything you were supposed to be tying on there?
Johannson: I made my own wish. We didn't talk about it. But I didn't actually write anything down. I was too busy moving to the next scene, while we lost the daylight. [sarcastically] It's a very romantic job.
IMDb: Who picked the karaoke songs that they sing?
Coppola: My friend Brian Reitzell, the music supervisor I worked with on The Virgin Suicides, we worked together on the music. We kept going back and forth on what music we should use for Bill and then he suggested "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding?" With "More Than This" somehow Bill and I were talking about Roxy Music and how we both loved that album "Avalon," and how we'd both bought a bunch of copies. You know those CDs that you lose and then you buy? We were waiting around before we were shooting and those places have all those karaoke booth rooms; they were like the dressing rooms while the actors were waiting and I went in to check on Bill, to see how he was doing. I looked on the karaoke machine in his room to see if they had "More Than This" and they did and I asked him [she puts on a pleading face] "Oh, will you please sing me "More Than This?" And he sang it for me and it was so sweet and touching. I thought "We have to have this in the movie" and luckily we got permission. He said it was hard to sing, and there was a lot of sake involved.
IMDb: Can you give some context to the first shot [which is one of Johannson's rump in pink undies]?
Coppola: The title shot? I can't think of a lot of thoughts that went behind it. I liked the hint of her femininity. I like the title shot of Lolita where it's just a foot.
IMDb: Can you describe your process for approaching your projects?
Coppola: It's different each time but I like to do things that you have some personal connection to, whatever's on your mind at the time. I usually don't know until afterward. At the time, it's not always so apparent that you're going in a certain direction. I still don't feel like I know exactly what I'm doing. I watched L' Avventura before I shot this, to kind of get a feel for something that was observant and also meandering.
[Her phone rings. She doesn't look at the number. She turns it off. ]
IMDb: Why the pink wig?
Johannson: Sofia's obsessed with the pink wig. She thinks I should dye my hair pink. It said "pink wig" in the script. It also said, "shear pink underwear" in the script. She likes me in pink for some reason. She must think it's very girly.
IMDb: What was the last shot that you had to edit out for time constrainsts?
Coppola: Oh, there was definitely stuff that we cut out. But now, with DVDs, it's not as hard; it's not gone forever.
Johannson: There was one scene that I was disappointed didn't make it. It was a scene with John that Sofia cut down to a very short thing. My character is lying on the bed. It's almost that Adaptation shot. And Charlotte asks John, "Am I shallow?" He says, "What?" and I repeat it, "Am I shallow?" and he says, "No, you're not shallow." I thought that line was actually important. I think it comes down to her wondering, "Is it me? Am I so self-absorbed that I'm freaking myself out."
IMDb: Whose handwriting was Lydia's? [Bob Harris's wife in the film.]
Coppola: That was our DP, Lance Accord's wife. Her [Lydia's] voice was our costume designer Nancy Steiner. We were going to get an actress, but they had such a rapport.
IMDb: Can you discuss the scene in the hospital with the little old woman?
Coppola: It was a little old man, an ancient Japanese old man. My friend found that guy at a chess club. It was all improvised. I figured if you just put them together and asked Bill to try to talk to him that something interesting would come up.
IMDb: What was in the highball glass that Bill was drinking?
Coppola: Probably ice tea. My dad, I've never seen it, but I've seen a still, did a Santori commercial with Akira Kurosawa. They were both in it, holding whiskey. That's where the idea for the Santori came from; I wanted it to be a real product. I'm still trying to find that commercial.
IMDb: Can you talk about the brief shot of Bill playing golf?
Coppola: He was really proud of that. He had a swagger after that shot. He was proud of that. That was on the first take. I just wanted a moment--the city is so crazy--a quiet moment in nature.
IMDb: The final kiss. Was that in the script?
Coppola: I can't remember. I know they embrace.
Johannson: It was never in the script.
IMDb: Was that improvised at the last moment?
IMDb: So, that whole scene where Bob gets back out of the cab...
Johannson: It was written that he finds her; they embrace. That was it. She says something to the effect of, "I'll miss you."
Coppola: I think I told Bill to kiss her without her knowing it. You get such a different reaction when it's unscripted. It's more honest.
IMDb: What does he whisper to her at the end?
Coppola: There was something specific, there was dialogue, but I liked it better that it was just between the two of them.
IMDb: And you're not going to say what it is, are you?
She shakes her head in a sweet, almost school-girlish way. Coppola has a certain feminine mystique about her that even the gorgeous Johannson can't approach; her movies are suffused with it, and Lost in Translation is a more formal coming out party; a new director is in our midst.