Lost in Translation
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- Bob: I don't want to leave... - Charlotte: So don't! Stay here with me. We'll start a jazz band...
Friday, June 14, 2024

On Location


A real find: Tokyo of 'Lost in Translation'

February 29, 2004 | By Charlie Amter, Special to The Chronicle

(02-29) 04:00 PST Tokyo — 2004-02-29 04:00:00 PST Tokyo --
Whether or not Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation" wins the Best Picture Oscar tonight, it's the film that captures today's postmodern Tokyo best. From the Shinjuku district's futuristic high-rises to Shibuya's busy game centers and karaoke parlors, "Lost in Translation" also cuts through the maze of Tokyo's tourist traps and reveals some of thehippest urban hideaways where a black-clad San Franciscan would feel right at home.

onlocation1The movie begins with Bob (Bill Murray) waking from a jet-lagged stupor in a cab along theKabuki-cho side of Yasukuni-dori in Shinjuku. As he passes seemingly endless rows of neon-encrusted buildings with fast-moving Japanese signage, his face registers bewilderment, awe and disorientation -- a typical reaction for visitors. But a different emotion takes hold at the slick Park Hyatt Tokyo, where he first encounters Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson).
onlocation2It's hard not to fall under the spell of this magical, glowing castle in the sky. Tucked discreetly onto the top 14 floors of a Shinjuku office building, the hotel is uniquely Tokyo. The staff's attention to detail as shown in the film is no exaggeration. The New York Bar on the 52nd floor is the scene for much of "Lost in Translation," and it's easy to see why Coppola was drawn to it. The surreal rush of looking out high over Tokyo at night while listening to top-notch jazz musicians imported from Chicago is enough to make anyone forget what time zone -- let alone what country -- they are in. You don't have to be a hotel guest to go here, but be prepared to fork over a 2,000-yen cover charge (about $19) for the view.
onlocation3The New York Bar is a must-see on any trip to Tokyo for the film's many fans, but countless other bars, clubs and restaurants are within a quick subway ride from the Park Hyatt. A few stops away from Shinjuku lies Shibuya and Daikanyama. Shibuya's awe-inspiring Hachiko exit from its train section is perhaps the most famous modern visual associated with Tokyo. In the film, Charlotte surreptitiously marvels at this vast, bewildering pedestrian crosswalk with its immense neon-lit buildings, teeming throngs of people, giant LCD video screens and confounding ad images projected onto the sides of buildings. There is no equivalent experience anywhere in the world -- save Times Square in 2034, perhaps.
onlocation4Not far from here also lies the karaoke parlor where Charlotte takes Bob. Karaoke-Kan is a chain, and in typical Tokyo fashion, there are several Karaoke-Kan locations in Shibuya alone. The one featured in the film, however, is in the heart of Shibuya's Center Gai district. Here you can procure your very own private karaoke room for about $25 an hour and drink as much as you want in an effort to summon up the will to drunkenly attempt Roxy Music's "More Than This." The actual rooms used in the film are on the sixth floor -- rooms 601 and 602.
onlocation5Also in Shibuya is Shabuzen, the shabu-shabu (a Japanese dish featuring thin slices of beef cooked with veggies) restaurant where Bob and Charlotte have their first coarse moments, and, accordingly, a meal of cook-it-yourself meat. Located in the basement of the Shibuya Creston hotel, Shabuzen is a warm and inviting space, quite large by Tokyo standards. The food is outstanding, and the price is right starting at 3,800 yen ($36) for portions larger than one could possibly eat.
Nearby is one of Tokyo's hippest nightclubs, Air, where Charlotte and Bob spent time looking at oversized balloons with a film of fireworks projected onto them among an oh-so-hip crowd.

The club's name is not especially apt, since Air is in a basement, but the scene is jumping here on weekends, with a good mix of hip-hop heads and house divas dancing the night away. White vinyl chairs only look immaculate here -- the club is a bit on the dingy side. Nevertheless, the sound system here is first-rate and the club experience authentic at Air. Just one stop away from Shibuya is the highly underrated and underexplored Daikanyama, seen in several scenes of "Lost in Translation." The neighborhood feels positively sedate compared to the youthful and noisy bustle of Shibuya, with sophisticated boutiques such as Christian Lacroix dotting the tree-lined streets and fashionable artist types trying to keep a low profile.




In the Omotesando/Harajuku district, hundreds of hip boutiques rub shoulders here with Tokyo flagship shops from some of the biggest brand names in the world, such as Gucci. This is also the epicenter of Tokyo's teen youth fashion scene -- and all the outlandish manifestations of Japanese fashion sensibilities can be seen on the backs of Omotesando and Harajuku's wild teens. Coppola chose the A.P.C. Underground clothing store here as the setting for her film's strip club scene. One of the trendier stores in Omotesando/Harajuku, A.P.C. is located in a basement space on a well-traveled side street. The small, womb-like shop has distinctive, wooden curved walls and an even more distinctive collection of clothes. Minimalism is the word at A.P.C., and short black dresses move out of this store at an alarming rate despite the prohibitive price tags.

onlocation9For a respite from Tokyo's relentlessly busy pace, do as Charlotte does in "Lost in Translation" and visit the Jugan-ji Temple, within walking distance of the Park Hyatt. While it is a fairly run-of-the-mill temple by Japanese standards, its location near the heart of busy Shinjuku makes it special indeed. Though you might not be moved to tears as Charlotte was, chances are you'll be inspired by the sense of an older, calmer Tokyo in stark juxtaposition to the surrounding chaos.

By Charlie Amter
Source: A real find: Tokyo of "Lost in Translation"
published on SFGate.com

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