Lost in Translation (2003), a film written and directed by Sofia Coppola, tells the story of two privileged Americans in Tokyo: Charlotte, a young photographer’s wife and creative soul, overcome by ennui, searching for inspiration; and Bob, a once-relevant actor past his prime, working as a high-paid whiskey spokesman and struggling through a mid-life crisis. Besieged by jetlag, Bob and Charlotte are out of their element, forced from the unchallenging pattern of their daily lives, leaving them vulnerable and ripe for change. Displaced, alone with their insomnia, questioning their choices in life, they transform a fleeting connection with each other into an intimate bond that allows them to discover a direction, and ultimately, the ending of the film implies, rediscover a passion for life.
In Bob and Charlotte, Coppola creates two vivid characters, unique but relatable in their existential angst. Throughout the film Coppola’s deliberate cinematic choices in sound heighten the physical and emotional detachment of her characters, provide insight into their interior lives, and reinforce the film’s themes of alienation and disconnection in modern society. Examined together, Coppola’s conscious and effective use of audible devices – music, complex layering of ambient sound, silence, and volume – sets the mood and allows us to further understand the loneliness and isolation that leads to the characters’ soul searching journey toward self discovery and fulfillment.
Bob’s dreamlike arrival in Tokyo entails a long sequence in which off-screen sounds from the airport – a plane landing, a disembodied female voice welcoming passengers in Japanese and English – are layered over atmospheric traffic noises and intermingled with airy, incide...
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...in, layered over the ambient sounds of the city. The exact words in the inaudible farewell, the whispered secret don’t matter. The subtext of the message, of their whirlwind relationship, is that they’ve given each other permission to move forward, to take risks, to live passionately.
Lost in Translation is a meditation on alienation and disconnection in the modern world. Sofia Coppola’s deft cinematic sound choices, her integral use of music, comingled with textured environmental noise, evocative song choices, expressive incidental score, subtle ranges in volume, and the concerted use of silence work together to highlight her characters’ interior lives and their desire to find their place in the larger world. Audio techniques support and reinforce the film’s themes and emphasize Bob and Charlotte’s longing for connection and creative and spiritual fulfillment.
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