Our talented editor-at-large Vivian Morelli continues her series Lost In Translation's Tokyo by exploring the karaoke culture of the city and its significance in Sofia Coppola's film. Thanks to Vivian's detailed description, it almost feels as if we are sharing her booth, singing along...
Lost In Translation's Tokyo: Karaoke
By Vivian Morelli
This newest installment of my ongoing series is actually not a geographical location, but rather an activity that is an essential part of any night out in Japan: karaoke. One of the most memorable scenes of Lost in Translation takes place in a karaoke room, where the main characters and their Japanese friends share the microphone for a few fun renditions.
Forget what you know about karaoke back home, which is essentially a single person performing in front of an audience of fellow patrons in a bar. In Japan, karaoke usually means a private booth, which you share with a few friends, some microphones, tambourines, a disco ball, and an all-you-can-drink (and eat!!) menu. Karaoke booths are open 24 hours, and you can stay as long as you wish, and order all the food and drinks you can handle (that is, if you can manage a pretty hefty tab at the end of the night).
Japanese karaoke rooms offer a wide selection of Japanese and English songs: they have everything ranging from Lady Gaga to The Smiths. The videos that play along with the songs are quite repetitive, albeit hilarious: usually some couples having a meal or a bubble bath, or rugged men riding motorcycles along the beach. You can even borrow accessories such as wigs and animal costumes (yes, you can be a tiger, a dinosaur, or Pikachu for a few hours).
In Lost in Translation, Bob, Charlotte, and their friends are seen singing along to hits such as "God Save The Queen" by The Sex Pistols, "More Than This" by Roxy Music, and the unforgettable "Brass In Pocket" by The Pretenders as performed by a pink wig-clad Charlotte. This scene is pretty amazing: not only is Scarlett Johansson completely captivating, but the scene is so typically Japanese. Sofia Coppla captured all the small details and emotions that are associated with a karaoke night out with Japanese friends, and how ties are created.
An evening out in Japan usually consists of a few stops: an izakaya (pub style restaurant) for drinks and finger foods, a bar for more drinks, a night club for some dancing, then a few hours at karaoke to end the night... or rather early morning. Karaoke is usually the last step of any night out in Japan, and from personal experience, people most likely emerge from a karaoke booth at sunrise.
In the movie, the characters end their festivities by stopping at karaoke, and singing a variety of English and Japanese songs. Their karaoke booth has a gorgeous view overlooking the neon-lit city, and those particular karaoke rooms are easily found anywhere in Shibuya or Shinjuku — I like to think the scene takes place in Shibuya, at a karaoke chain named Karaoke-kan, as it makes the most sense after their bar-hopping night and similar design.
I love how karaoke plays an important part in Lost in Translation as for bonding amongst characters — not only Charlotte and Bob, but them and their Japanese friends. Despite cultural differences and language barriers, everyone can always have such a fantastic time together at karaoke, singing along to songs everyone knows around the world. I'm also very fond of the sequence where Charlotte and Bob sit silently in the hallway, exhausted, as their friends sing the beautiful "Kaze Wo Atsumete" by Happy End, an old Japanese song I love so much.
And, in true Japanese style, the night ends with a sleepy taxi ride across Tokyo... pure bliss.
Lost in Translation film stills © 2003 Lost in Translation Inc. All Rights Reserved.