Culture could be defined as all the ways of life including traditions, religion, language, behaviors, arts and everything that creates identity to a country. In such a globalized world, where in most organizations we have people from the entire world, it is very important to know about cross-cultural management in order to understand people’s behavior and needs in order to avoid problems and have a pleasant and successful workplace. I chose to watch the movie ‘Lost in translation’, a 2003 American movie directed by Sofia Coppala. The film shows us what it is like to find ourselves in a completely different environment, culture.
Gist of the movie:
The movie focuses on issues such as loneliness, alienation and culture shock through the story of two Americans feeling lost in modern day Japan. One’s Bob Harris, an aging American movie star, who arrives in Tokyo to film an advertisement for a Japanese whisky brand. Apart from experiencing the culture shock he is also having a mid-life crisis and seems tired by his marriage which lacks emotions. Then there’s Charlotte, a young Yale graduate who comes here with her husband who is a photographer. She feels left alone by her partner who spends most of his time working, which makes her unsure of her marriage and life. The two eventually meet and together explore the differences in American and Japanese cultures.
In the beginning of the movie, characters are portrayed in many situations, which make it clear that they are experiencing symptoms of culture shock. We see Bob Harris having problems with understanding and adjusting to the newfound conditions since his arrival in Tokyo, e.g. when he is greeted by almost every member of the hotel staff in which he stays and receives gifts and name cards from Japanese people. It is easily noticeable that he is not used to this kind of behavior, where as in the Japanese culture it marks high respect and gratitude to offer one’s business or visiting card on their first introductions.
It is also indicated that he is an alien in this culture in one of the first scenes of the movie where in an elevator he is surrounded by natives significantly shorter than him. One of the reasons why newcomers feel uncomfortable in the host culture is the limited ability to communicate or complete lack of competence in speaking in a different language. Characters, especially Bob, have problems with communicating many times. One of the interesting and funny scenes was the first time during the shooting of the ad: The Director (with blue contact lenses) says a few long sentences in Japanese. TRANSLATOR, a middle-aged woman in a coordinated outfit, translates but it is only a short sentence now.
He wants you to turn, look in camera and say the lines.
Bob wonders what she’s leaving out, or if that’s the way it works from Japanese to English.
BOB: That’s all he said?
TRANSLATOR: Yes, turn to camera.
Bob thinks let’s just get it over with.
BOB: Turn left or right?
The Translator blots her face with a tissue, and asks the director in a Japanese sentence 5 times as long. The Director answers her in a long excited phrase. TRANSLATOR: Right side, and with intensity.
BOB: Is that everything? It seemed like he was saying a lot more. The excited Director says more in Japanese. Translator nods in understanding. Bob doesn’t really know what’s going on. TRANSLATOR: Like an old friend, and into the camera.
DIRECTOR (to Bob): Suntory Time!
Here, Bob is aware of the translator’s incompetence and knows that the director said and asked him for a lot more. However, his linguistic incompetence does not allow him to fully interact and take part in the exchange of ideas. He is at the mercy of a translator not able to properly express herself in English.
Another factor which contributes to experiencing culture shock is being unable to find the way or use public transport. In one of the scenes we can see Charlotte having those problems while standing in front of the Tokyo metro plan and staring at it with confusion. She seems to feel lost in the huge crowd but she has to deal with it alone since she has no friends with her and does not know the language. The feeling of loneliness is shown in the film in numerous scenes. It is most clearly visible when the characters are portrayed looking through the windows, giving the impression of being sad and absent. In the hotel room, on the back seat of a taxi they are always alone, separated from the busy city by glass. Their look may be called the far-away stare or the tropical stare, which is a sign of a serious culture shock.
Another issue which does not make functioning in a different culture easy is food, which is very often unfamiliar. In a scene from the movie, Bob and Charlotte go for lunch. In the restaurant the waitress brings them drinks. She pours beer slowly, and turns on a pot on the table to cook their food. Charlotte looks at the menu as it is filled with photos of different trays of meat. The waitress doesn’t speak English. CHARLOTTE: I can’t tell the difference? They have trouble ordering, but point to a picture on the menu. BOB: We’ll have two of these. (He is forced to choose something randomly) Apart from the inability to distinguish between different dishes they also cannot communicate verbally with the waitress. None of them can speak Japanese and the restaurant’s employee does not know any English.
In the final scenes of the movie, it is noticed that Bob is going through a certain stage of cultural shock i.e.; adjustment and appreciation. He found himself a friend, and seemed to like and appreciate his host culture. Back in the Presidential, alone, Bob leans against the little doily. They drive off. He looks out the window, Bob’s happy he’s going home, he’s happy he came to Tokyo. Since he was happy he came to Tokyo I assume that later he had some difficulties adjusting back to his own culture.
Personally this movie helped me to learn a few modern day Japanese cultures. Also it depicts that no matter which country you choose to go, it’s always better to learn at least the basics of its language.