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Lost in Translation - Sofia Coppola Q&A



Compiled by: Jack Foley

Q: Bill Murray... Inspired casting and you’ve probably given the gentleman his best role in years. Was he your first choice from the moment you wrote the script, or did you have to go round the houses a little before you came to that conclusion?
A:
Yeah, actually I wrote with him in mind because I’d always wanted to work with him. And to see him play a romantic lead, which combines him being really fun and sweet with a sadder, more tender side of him. That was one of the things, when I was writing it, I just wanted to see this big American out of place in Tokyo and really to have both sides, the humour and the sadness.

Q: How much of yourself is in the character that Scarlett plays?
A:
The whole story is personal to me and there is myself in all the characters, in Scarlett’s character and Bill Murray’s character. I definitely was thinking about that age, when I was in my early 20s, and not knowing what I wanted to do with work. I was just out of school and just in that transition, and in crisis a little bit.
I’d always been interested in this idea of a man’s mid-life crisis and this just seemed like the same thing, have these two characters looking at the same questions.
Also, I like characters in JD Salinger stories, where you have young preppie woman having this kind of existential breakdown and there’s something kind of funny and charming to me about that. So there’s definitely aspects of my experience, but certain sides of it, it’s not completely.

Q: Presumably, if the film had been a studio movie, there might have been pressure to make the relationship less internal; is that why you made it this way?
A:
You mean independently? Yeah, it was important for me to have control over it, editing wise, and to make it exactly how I imagined. And the only way I could do that was to make it low budget and do it on our own, so we didn’t have a boss telling us how to make it marketable, or something. So we just chose to make it this way.

Q: Do you still test screen for audience reactions?
A:
Not really. I would invite friends over to watch it, to get a sense of how it was playing, but no focus groups. It was more to see if there were certain sections that were slow or not, so it was more screenings like that. But because it was low budget, it didn’t have to make a lot of money, so we didn’t have to do focus groups because there’s not a lot at stake.

Q. Were you intimidated by the language barrier, at all?
A:
I’ve been going to Tokyo once a year for the past eight or nine years, and I love going, it’s an adventure.
I still don’t speak any Japanese, the language is just really intimidating to me. I think it’s fun, anything like going to get groceries becomes a big ordeal, because you don’t speak the same language.
Working wit the Japanese crew was definitely frustrating, as you have to be patient. But, for me, I always wanted to shoot in Tokyo and film what it was like for me there. And that excitement and enthusiasm kept me going.
I still think it’s overwhelming, you know? It’s crowded and really modern and there’ll be an ancient temple right next to this intersection and a hotel and the mixture of American and Japanese culture. I find it strange and wonderful.

Q: Do you feel part of a renaissance of hot young directors. And, since you’ve acted in your father’s films, I was wondering if there’d be a part for him in one of yours?
A:
My Dad’s actually a better actor than me, so maybe some time I’ll have a part for him. As for being part of something, it’s hard to see yourself like that. I know I have friends who are directors around my age and I really respond to what they do and I’m really excited by what they do, but I don’t know. You don’t really feel part of something. But I do feel like there are a lot of directors that I like.

Q: Sean Connery once got into trouble for advertising a Japanese whiskey like in the film. Do you have any experience of Japanese commercials?
A:
Funny you should say that. You can’t walk down the street in Tokyo without some familiar Western movie star holding a drink.
At the vending machine there’s the Brad Pitt coffee can, it’s just a part of being in Japan and it’s just really odd. And American actors, you know it’s a big pay job, they get tonnes of money for a day’s work, and they think nobody’s going to see it, and all the Japanese people I know, they don’t think it’s cool.
They don’t think like, ‘oh, cool Brad Pitt’s doing this’, they think it’s cheesy. It was just trying to think of how to get Bill Murray’s character over to Japan and, having seen all those ads, I though, ‘oh, yeah’.
I wanted to do a real brand and I remember my Dad showing me a still of Kurosawa, who did a Santori ad in the Seventies, so I just thought, I’ll make it Santori; but it’s not meant to be disrespectful.

Q: Sophia, why did you decide on Kevin Shields to do the soundtrack, and did it take much persuading, because he hasn’t done much recording in the past few years?
A:
Yeah, I always liked My Bloody Valentine, and I was talking to Brian Rice, my music supervisor, who is also a musician, and I think he met Kevin on tour, and we were just talking about the kind of music we used, and he suggested approaching Kevin Shields.
I thought that would be really exciting, if he might do it. And Kevin was interested, he’d never worked on a movie and he was interested in doing it. We sent him dailies on tape and he wrote music to the images and just talked about it. It was really exciting to me.

Q: Am I right in thinking you had some trouble with the authorities while filming?
SC:
We did have to move around on the subways a lot because security was coming and we had to get off and go on another train. It was sort of fun to shoot in that way, though.
It was just the three of us and the DP, and we’d sneak in and out, or see an officer and go on another train. It was hectic, at times, and you can’t get permission for certain things, but most of the time it was a fun way to work.
Scarlett Johansson: We could be pretty sneaky because nobody was ever looking at us.

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