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Coppola Movie 'Lost in Translation' in Japan

Critics in the United States simply adored Sofia Coppola's Tokyo-set "Lost in Translation." (search

But it's a different story in Japan, where the satire with Bill Murray (search) and Scarlett Johansson (search) just opened to mixed (at best) reviews.

Writing in the nation's largest newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, critic Yoshiro Tsuchiya complained that "Sofia's view of Japan is outrageously biased and banal . . .

"To make matters worse, all the Japanese characters are portrayed only smiling or bowing."

In Asahi Shimbun, another major Tokyo newspaper, well-known non-fiction writer Kotaro Sawaki said he "felt unusual revulsion against this movie," adding: "All the Japanese are consistently portrayed as foolish. But the movie fails to point out that what appears to be foolish mirrors the viewer's own foolishness."

And in London's The Guardian, Kiku Day (search), a popular musician who lived in Tokyo for 10 years, complained that the "caricatures play to longstanding American prejudice about Japan ...Coppola's negative stereotyping makes her more the thinking person's Sylvester Stallone than a cinematic genius.

"Good luck to the director for getting away with it, but what on earth are people with some semblance of taste doing saluting it?"

So why has "Lost in Translation" proved unpopular among Japanese intellectuals?

Michiko Shiraishi, a New York reporter for the Japanese news agency Jiji Press (search), reasons: "Japanese understand Japanese dialogue. So contrary to the director's intention, Japanese audiences cannot help paying attention to what Japanese are saying in the background, missing the whole 'lost in translation' effect.

"And Japanese might feel they were betrayed by 'their true friends,' Americans."

But the critical drubbing doesn't seem to have affected the film at the Japanese box office.

It opened at just one theater but is slowly expanding to some 70 by July.

Back home, "Lost in Translation" won a wide range of prizes, from the Oscar for original screenplay, to laurels for best actor and director from the New York Film Critics Circle (search) to four Independent Spirit Awards (search).

Murray plays an actor who goes to Tokyo to film a whiskey commercial and finds himself in a platonic relationship with a neglected American wife (Johansson) young enough to be his daughter.