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Behind-the-Scenes of "Lost in Translation" with Sofia Coppola

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Sofia Coppola

Director Sofia Coppola

Sofia Coppola took her fascination with Japan and turned it into the setting for her latest film, “Lost in Translation.”

Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, “Lost in Translation” stars Bill Murray as fictional movie star, Bob Harris. Scarlett Johansson co-stars as Charlotte, a photographer’s wife who meets up with Bob in a bar in Tokyo. Bob and Charlotte are both American, both insomniacs, and both lonely. Together they forge a strange alliance as they explore the sights and sounds of Toyko.

In this interview, Sofia Coppola discusses her choice of location, collaborating with Bill Murray, and her famous family:

Did you always know you'd be able to shoot this in Tokyo? Could you have set it anywhere else?
That was really the starting point for the story. When I had spent time in Tokyo, I thought, “Oh I really want to film this. I love the way the neon at night looks.” That was really the starting point of the story. I never thought about setting it somewhere else.

Why did you go to Tokyo in the first place?
A friend of mine was doing a fashion show and asked me to come help produce it. Then I met that guy Charlie, who sings 'God Save the Queen' [in the movie]. He had a magazine and hired me to do photos so I was going there working for him. It was exciting for me because I was getting to work as a photographer.

I met more people there and just always found it really stimulating, and an interesting place. I kept going back there to do this work over the past eight years, from my early to mid-20s. I go there once a year for the past eight years. As a little kid, I remember going to Japan with my parents. They were interested in Japan and took us to see the temples and all that kind of stuff. That was more of the traditional side.

How does a 30 year-old woman get into the mind of a middle-aged guy going through a mid-life crisis?
I don't know why I wanted to write a story about that. There was something I just was really drawn to. I really wanted to do this story about this guy having a mid-life crisis in Japan where it's already so confusing. But I think that, you know, that early 20s kind of 'what am I going to do with my life?' crisis I felt was similar to the guy having a mid-life crisis. I just related to his character and allowed them to both be kind of going through similar things, but from other ends of the spectrum.

Did you meet with any resistance when you decided to go into the family business?
Yes, but I don't think it was conscious. I think that I went to art school and studied painting… Everyone in my family is in the film business; I knew I wanted to be creative and it was important in my family to be artistic. But I was trying to find my own way [and I] kind of got into film after trying different things.

Did the comedy elements come from Bill Murray improvising or were they in the script?
You know when I was writing it, there were certain situations that I thought were funny, like just misunderstandings, and so I guess that was what I found amusing or funny. And then definitely Bill Murray added a lot to that. Like the photo shoot, that was all improvised.

What about his work on the exercise machine?
Actually that was his idea. When I was writing the script, I was seeing what kinds of things he'd be doing in the middle of the night. [I asked] him if he had any ideas so we could kind of collaborate. He said, "Well, what about the exercise machine?" And then I wrote the scene where he can't understand how to work it - but that was kind of him going off. One of the things I love is how funny he is. I let him do his thing in that setting.

Sofia Coppola on Bill Murray, Casting Scarlett Johansson, and Getting Advice From Her Family

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