USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

Lost in Tokyo

It could be said that Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation could be filmed in any Eastern metropolis. The story line is simple; two strangers meet in a foreign city and through the mutual feeling of loneliness find comfort with each other. Easy right? But not quite true. Tokyo is as much as of a character as Bill Murray’s, Bob Harris and Scarlett Johansson’s, Charlotte.

First off, let’s define protagonist: the main character (the central or primary personal figure) of a literary, theatrical, cinematic, or musical narrative, around whom the events of the narrative’s plot revolve around. In Lost in Translation, Tokyo is the protagonist. It is a city that knows itself and within its network of streets, signs, and buildings two people find themselves “lost.” Within each frame, the city has its presence, the emotions of the characters enhanced by their surroundings.  The intrigue in Lost in Translation is not only the friction between Bob and Charlotte, but between them and Tokyo. There is a level of detachment that can be seen in every shot of Charlotte gazing out into the panoramic view of the city. There is a sense of isolation with the visual; the plane of glass becomes protection from the outside while being partial to the otherness looking in.

Tokyo is presented to world as being global yet as soon as you touch down there is a strong local presence. You are cast into a medley of foreign signs and overwhelmed by the new. Pretty soon you begin to look for some sense of familiarity. That is usually reached at the hotel. Once you arrive you take in your room, immediately heading to window to get one more glimpse of the new before you take in the comforts of “home.”  Just as the window was a buffer between Tokyo and Charlotte, Park Hotel became the median point for us. But even within the confines of our room the city began to influence us. With its flashing lights, towers, and transit system we began to be taken over yet never embraced. There in lies the tension between Tokyo and the visitor. There always seems to be a sense of distance that you cannot breach. Of course not knowing the language effects this distance but after being in Korea, Hong Kong, and Shanghai, all dense cities where language is a factor, you realize there is something else going on in Tokyo.

Tokyo’s personality can be described as cold, robotic, and relentless; a place where no one seems to “stop talking, walking, or existing.” You begin to wonder how you can stitch yourself into this fabric of pristine white shirts and seemingly choreographed movement. It is this frustration that adds to the intrigue of the city. You begin to venture out further to try and understand what makes the city tick. In the subways you begin to watch the mannerisms of the Japanese. Almost trying to disappear in the background and not interrupt the exchanges going around you, as if by existing you change the dynamic of the subway car.

Tokyo asks you to not only join but to observe and understand. In order to do this you have to become “lost” within the fabric. You have to walk the streets of Shibuya and Ginza and not only shop but experience. You have to look the flashing lights, the bright neon signs as not only a given but a way of communicating. You have to take in the dense urban fabric and understand why. That is the hard part. It is not a city waiting in the wings. It is fast pace and moving. You have to jump in and seek and maybe, just maybe it will find you too.

– Precious

Filed under: Architecture, Japan, Lost, Tokyo


The views and opinions contained in this blog are solely those of the individual authors and do not represent the views and opinions of the University of Southern California or any of its officers or trustees.



AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu