Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation is a film with a captivating dream-like atmosphere. This is due partly to the plot; Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) are two foreigners on business trips to Japan–Harris is shooting a commercial and Charlotte is accompanying her husband who is a photographer. Japan is then seen through the eyes of Harris and Charlotte who are both exploring it for the first time, and the result is a sense of alienation but also wonder.
Take for example the scene where Charlotte walks through the arcade. Left alone by her husband, Charlotte finds comfort in exploring Japan. Alone, she stalks through the parlor, keeping to herself as evidenced by her hands in her pockets and her distance from the players. It’s the use of the distance that Coppola uses in order to showcase the sense of estrangement and interest on Charlotte’s part.
Through shot/reverse-shots, Coppola first shows Charlotte watching someone playing the video-game cabinet and then shows the player on the game before finally showing Charlotte’s reaction.
It is in this process of showing Charlotte’s reactions that we understand what she’s going through emotionally. Approaching the cabinet to watch the games, Charlotte is hesitant, poking her head to peek at the cabinets from afar as reflected by the camera distance. Coppola then switches to the player on the cabinet who is made to be wondrous through their physical movement. Finally, Coppola switches back to Charlotte who is now much closer to the cabinet and smiling and this time, closer shots are used. The distance between the subjects of the frame, and the subjects to each other, consequently become indicative of the feeling of wonder and alienation that Charlotte experiences.
With Lost in Translation, Coppola showcases an eye for the minute and uses the smallest external details of her sets in order to make her own cinematic world come to life, partly in thanks to the use of deep focus. Going back to the arcade scene, we’re not simply observing Charlotte’s reactions but also the background surroundings of the arcade. We’re able to see couples on dates and hear the bombarding noises of other video games.
Supplemented by a soundtrack put together by Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine (not to be confused with Bullet for my Valentine), the use of the shoe-gaze/dream pop genre gives the film that dream-like ambiance, thus helping it achieve both an atmosphere of familiarity but also distance.