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What Does the Whisky Commercial Director Say in "Lost in Translation"?

Posted by Colonel Bourbon on

"Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut! God, I'm begging you."

In the movie Lost in Translation, Bill Murray plays Bob Harris, a Hollywood star past his prime who travels to Tokyo for a lucrative offer to appear in a Japanese whisky commercial. The 2003 movie, by Sophia Coppola, co-stars Scarlett Johansson.

"For relaxing times, make it Suntory time." (Lost in Translation)

(Suntory whisky, Wikipedia public domain)

A Lucrative Three Days

In fact, in the 1980s and 90s, before the internet made everything international, stars could make big money by filming TV commercials in Japan, which were very unlikely to be seen in America. Some stars still do it today: "The commercial shoots, which typically take an average of three days, are estimated to pay between $1-3 million for A-List Hollywood stars." (source The Richest).

In a key, fun scene from the movie, Bill Murray's character is on the set for his Suntory whisky commercial, and he's literally lost in translation. The director is giving Bob Harris what sounds like detailed instructions in Japanese, only to have the translator provide very short, rather unhelpful translations. 

We will translate a few excerpts of what the director (played by Yutaka Tadokoro) said, and we'll reveal something else you probably didn't know, which relates to bourbon, but first here's the fantastic scene from the movie:

The "Lost in Translation" Translation

Yes, something is missing from the translation. Interestingly, in the beginning the director tells the translator (Akiko Takeshita) that "The translation is very important."

These are the first instructions the director gives Bill Murray's character:

"Mr. Bob-san. You are sitting quietly in your study. And then there is a bottle of Suntory whiskey on top of the table. You understand, right? With wholehearted feeling, slowly, look at the camera, tenderly, and as if you are meeting old friends, say the words. As if you are Bogie in Casablanca, saying, 'Cheers to you guys, Suntory time!'"

And here's the translation "He wants you to turn, look in camera, okay?"

Bob is perplexed and asks if that's all he said. He is told simply, "Yes, turn to camera."

This goes on for a while; the director increasingly exasperated. 

"For relaxing times, make it Suntory time."

"Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut!," yells the director:  "Don't try to fool me. Don't pretend you don't understand. Do you even understand what we are trying to do? Suntory is very exclusive..." He continues only to have his frustration translated as: "Could you do it slower and more intensity."

Finally: "Cut, cut, cut, cut, cut! God, I'm begging you."

An iconic movie

Sophia Coppola made a great film. She described it as "things being disconnected and looking for moments of connection

Bill Murray of his character: 

He was trapped...When you go to a foreign country, truly foreign, there is a major shock of consciousness that comes on you when you see that, "Oh God, it's just me here." There's nobody, no neighbors, no friends, no phone calls—just room service."

Coppola had Murray in mind for the movie from the beginning. But the actor is well-known for being rather hard to get a hold of, to pitch projects to. He apparently does not have an agent. After getting tired of his home phone ringing all day, it is said he unplugged it, installing an 800 number and sending it to voicemail. Which he is in no hurry to answer.

When Coppola was able to reach Murray, with the help of those she knew, the actor agreed to do the film but without a contract. The director had to take it on faith that Murray would show up in Tokyo at the appointed time. He did.

What whiskey is he drinking; is it a real brand?

Suntory's Hibiki 17, and yes it's real. 

Jim Bean bourbon is now part of the Suntory Holdings.

(Suntory poster advertising a port wine, 1922, Wiki Creative Commons) 

The Suntory company was established in 1899 and is one of the oldest alcohol business in Japan. Hibiki (which means "echo" or "resonance" in Japanese) is a 17-year old blended grain and malt whiskey, and was first offered in 1989. After Lost in Translation, demand and sales skyrocketed. 

In 2018, it was announced that the Hibiki 17 would be discontinued due to lack of an aged supply, but that seems not to make happened.

The Suntory tie-in the bourbon

In 2014 Suntory bought Jim Beam, the makers of the largest-selling bourbon brand in the world. Suntory is now the third largest manufacturer of distilled spirits in the world.

Jim Beam is based in Clermont, Kentucky; the Beam family have been involved with whiskey distilling since 1776. Customers used to bring their jugs to fill up with the spirit. In 1880, the company began bottling it. At that time, their whiskey was known as Old Tub.

The bourbon that became what we know today was named Jim Beam in 1943, in honor of the man who rebuilt the brand after Prohibition. Over the years, Beam added other labels to its lineup. In 1987, they added Old Crow, which was considered the premium brand in the late 1800s, Old Taylor (another classic brand, which was subsequently sold to another company) and Old Grand-Dad, a brand that has been distilled since 1840.

P.S. The spelling of whisk(e)y, depends on the origin of the liquor. America's bourbon and rye, and the Irish drink includes the "e," whereas Japanese, Canadian, and Scotch is "whisky." There are exceptions. Maker's Mark calls their bourbon whisky.

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