Sofia Coppola wrote the lead role specifically for Bill Murray, and later said that if Murray turned it down, she wouldn't have done the movie.
Sofia Coppola wasn't sure if Bill Murray was actually going to show up for the film. Murray works without a management, and according to Coppola, he had only given her a verbal confirmation. While production was being set up in Tokyo with no sign of him, she started to get nervous, but was assured by Wes Anderson (who had directed Murray in Rushmore (1998) and The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)) that Murray was a man of his word. It was indeed when Murray landed in Tokyo one week before filming that his participation was ensured.
The script, which can be found online, wasn't written in the traditional sense, but more in terms of broad scene description that allowed for input by the actors. Many dialogue scenes were heavily improvised, including Bill Murray's lines in the photo shoot and his conversation with Scarlett Johansson about his Shiatsu massage.
Sofia Coppola wrote a lot of the film based on her life. The character of John (Giovanni Ribisi) was loosely based on her then husband Spike Jonze. Rumor has it that the Anna Faris' character, Kelly, was supposedly Cameron Diaz, with whom Spike Jonze worked with on Being John Malkovich (1999), though Coppola denied the connection in an Entertainment Weekly interview.
Francis Ford Coppola, Sofia Coppola's father, urged her to shoot the movie in High Definition Video because "it's the future", but she chose film because "film feels more romantic".
The entire budget for the film was 4 million dollars. It grossed 44.5 million dollars in North America, and 119.7 million dollars world wide.
When Charlotte is riding the subway, she looks down at a man who is reading a comic called 'Ghost in the Shell'. Scarlett Johansson would go on to star in a film adaptation of the comic in 2017.
The opening shot of Scarlett Johansson is actually influenced by a painting by John Kacere, whose painting shows up later in the hotel. Johansson was reportedly nervous about appearing in her underpants, so to ease her down, Sofia Coppola did the first take herself while wearing the same underpants.
Catherine Lambert, the redheaded lounge singer, wasn't a professional actress. Sophia Coppola witnessed Catherine performing in Tokyo in 2001. A year later, her producer Ross Katz from Elemental Films (based in New York) tracked Catherine down in South Australia and invited her to return to Tokyo to play the part of the "Red Haired Jazz Singer" in "Lost in Translation".
In 1999, Bill Murray replaced his talent agency with an automated voice mailbox that can be reached with an 800 number that he gives out sparingly; he only calls back when he is interested in the proposed project. Sofia Coppola obtained the number through her friend and frequent Murray-collaborator Wes Anderson, and she reportedly left hundreds of messages on Murray's mailbox before he finally called back to discuss her offer to cast him as the star.
Bob was asked to channel Roger Moore when shooting the Suntory commercial, but he said he liked Sean Connery better. In the real world, Sean Connery actually did commercials for Suntory.
Sofia Coppola designed many of the shots for the film by taking a series of photographs throughout Tokyo and then recreating them with the cast and crew, using the photos as references.
Filming had to be done in secrecy at certain locations because the production was unable to secure permission to shoot there. For example, the crew faced threat of arrest while filming in the subway of Tokyo and at Shibuya Crossing.
There is a shot of Bob running across a busy street while a minivan passes, full of uniformed women waving and politely shouting over a P.A. system. This is a form of advertising used by political candidates. The candidate himself is running alongside the van.
The film's Spanish title in South America, "Perdidos en Tokio", Chinese title "Mi Shi Dong Jing", and its Hebrew title in Israel, "Avudim be-Tokio", all mean "Lost in Tokyo", meaning that the titles themselves were literally lost in translation. The reason is probably that "Lost in Translation" sounds like a discussion on translation in other languages. The title got lost in translation in other versions as well: the title in Portuguese translates as "Love is a Strange Place"; the title in Polish translates as "In Between Words".
The inspiration for having Bob Harris do a Suntory whisky commercial was partially inspired by the fact that Sofia Coppola's father, Francis Ford Coppola, made a real Suntory commercial with Akira Kurosawa in the 1970s.
The plastic flowers/leaves that Charlotte is arranging to hang in her room are commonly used as decorations in shops in Tokyo. The fact that they are pink means it is springtime.
John uses the phrase 'moshi moshi' incorrectly. It is used as a greeting in Japan, but only when using a telephone. It is almost never used face to face unless trying to get someone's attention.
Bill Murray had a Japanese phrase book called "Making Out In Japanese" in which he would go around to sushi restaurants and ask the chefs if "they had a curfew" or if the would mind if he "used protection." He even mentioned on the Graham Norton Show that he had learned a phrase along the lines of "Who do you think you're talking to?" and would mention it to the fear of others.
Sofia Coppola based the characters of Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and her husband John (Giovanni Ribisi) on herself and her then-husband Spike Jonze. She won the 2003 Best Original Screenplay Oscar for the movie. Ten years later, Johansson worked with Jonze on Her (2013), which earned Jonze the 2013 Best Original Screenplay Oscar.
The painting in Charlotte's hotel room in Tokyo was done by John Kacere called "Jutta" (1973). Kacere is a famous photorealist who specialized in photographing women in lingerie.
The dish that Bill Murray's character complains about saying who goes to a restaurant where you have to cook your own food is called Shabu Shabu. It is very thinly sliced raw meat along with various vegetables that the consumer dips in boiling broth.
For her role in this film, Sofia Coppola became the first woman to be Oscar nominated for writing, directing and producing a film. She won for Best Original Screenplay.
The whiskey that Bob represents is 17-year-old Suntory Hibiki. Hibiki, which means "resonance" in Japanese, has won numerous awards including World's Best Blended Whiskey.
At the New York Bar/Grill in the Park Hyatt hotel, one "Lost in Translation" theme drink called L.I.T. is available. Ingredients as per menu: sake (Kikuizumi Daiginjo), Peachtree, cherry blossom liqueur (Sakura Liqueur), and "cranberry drink".
The conversation between the two men in the Sauna (near the end of the film) goes something like this: - "I can hardly eat papayas anymore!" - "At first I was really happy ... at first, I thought ... well I thought..." - "At the beginning, yes." - "In Germany, I was looking forward to it, but in the meantime..." - "Yeah. Now, something German..." - "Hmmmm." - "After this, we'll go out and get something German to eat here!"
"Too Young" by Phoenix is on the movie soundtrack. The band's singer, Thomas Mars, has two children with director Sofia Coppola.
The BB-gun the angry bartender used to drive out Bob, Charlotte and Charlotte's friends is an Airsoft MP5 with a Tokyo-Marui tracer adapter, firing plastic phosphor-luminescent BBs. The adapter's strobe light makes the BBs glow.
Most or all of the game audio heard in the arcade is not the original audio from the games shown.
Bob is asked to channel Roger Moore for his photo shoot. Later, we see a karaoke performance of "Nobody Does It Better", the theme to one of Moore's own Bond movies, The Spy Who Loved Me.
The ring tone on Bob's cell phone is Frédéric Chopin's "Fantaisie Impromptu" in C sharp minor, Opus 66.
The only Best Picture Oscar nominee of the year to be also nominated for Original Screenplay.
The white doily seat covers in the limo are widely used in Japan. Most taxis and limos have them installed to protect the leather seat surfaces from discoloration and wear.
After Lina Wertmüller for Seven Beauties (1975) and Jane Campion for The Piano (1993), Sofia Coppola was only the third woman to be nominated for the Academy Award for Best Director. The only other women to be so nominated are Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker (2008) and Greta Gerwig for Lady Bird (2017). Bigelow is the only one of the five to have won the award.
The car that Bob Harris is chauffeured around in is a Toyota Century, a luxury limousine which is produced in a limited quantities and is commonly used by members of royalty, government leaders, and executive businessmen. It is also the choice for Japanese embassies outside Japan.
Giovanni Ribisi mentions that he had to go down to talk to Kelly in the bar. New York Bar is actually on the 52nd floor. Higher than all the guest rooms in the Park Hyatt Tokyo.
The temple in Kyoto that Charlotte went to was Nanzen-ji. It was odd for her to see a wedding there, however, as Japanese weddings take place in shrines, not temples. The second place she went to was Heian Jingu Shrine.
When Charlotte goes to the arcade she sees the games Taiko no Tatsujin, (the game with the big drum) by Namco, GuitarFreaks by Konami, and Pop'n Music by Konami. The latter two are part of Konami's Bemani music game series which is very popular in Japan.
The song in the arcade where the young boy is playing guitar is by the Japanese punk band "The Blue Hearts".
The pink flower mobiles Charlotte hangs in the hotel room are cherry blossoms, which hold a very prominent place in Japanese culture.
The film's Italian title 'L'Amore Tradotto' is defined in English as 'Love Translated'.
Included among the "1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die", edited by Steven Schneider.
Giovanni Ribisi and Scarlett Johanssen both have fraternal twin siblings. Giovanni a sister, and Scarlett a brother.
An extra in the party scene wears a Pizza of Death t-shirt. This is the name of an independent record label.
The hotel lounge act is named after Sausalito, California, a small artsy/touristy town across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.
The close up camera lens on the crane/jib camera, in the TV game show is a Fujinon 5.5mm wide angle lens; it gives a fishbowl, almost distorted look, when physically very close to an object or person.
Scarlett Johansson was born in 1984. 1984 was the year "Ghostbusters" starring Bill Murray was released.
Dismissed in a Mitchell and Webb sketch about Film Critics as a film where "nothing happens at all".
The TV camera used in the scene where Bob appears on the Japanese show is an Ikegami HK-388W with a Fujinon Ah24x lens, mounted on a Vinten Vector 700 pan and tilt head - typical studio equipment.
The name of Kelly Strong (Ana Faris) is revealed in Japanese text before being spoken or shown in English. When she does the press conference for Midnight Velocity, her name is written in katakana as "Kerii Sutorongu".
In the Karaoke Scene, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is seen wearing a pink wig. Scarlett Johansson later would go on to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow whom has red hair.