Lost in Translation Issues that Can Hurt Your Deal

Francesca Giannoni-Crystal

Do you remember “Lost in Translation”, the movie directed by Sophia Coppola, starring Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson? Murray plays the role of an American actor who is in Japan to shoot a liquor commercial, while Scarlet Johansson … Well, sorry, Johansson is off topic here; let’s stay focused on Murray. While in Tokyo for the shooting, he is surprised by many local features and cultural differences, just to name one, the shower in his hotel room, which he discovers being  “leetle” shorter than he is accustomed to.  All this triggers quite humorous scenes. To me, however, the funniest is the shooting of the commercial. Now, just for the few of you who haven’t seen the movie, let’s visualize the Japanese director trying to direct Murray to move in a certain fashion for the camera. The director does that in a long, articulated and, arguably, emotional harangue.  Murray’s interpreter translates it into “move your head” and “more intensity.” We do not really know why, whether for lack of translational skills, sloppiness or because of an objective impossibility to convey the full fledge of the director’s Japanese words into English. We know the result, however: following the translator’s words, Murray moves his head and puts all the intensity that he can but … guess! The director is not happy. Obviously something that he said was … lost in translation!

Similar situations happen very frequently to clients and lawyers involved in international transactions and litigation, except that it is not so funny as in Murray’s case.