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.
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.
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".
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 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.
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!"
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.
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.
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 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.
Scarlett Johansson was born 5 months after the release of Ghostbusters (1984) which Bill Murray starred as Peter Venkman. Scarlett Johansson's future The Avengers (2012) co-star Chris Hemsworth later went on to star in Ghostbusters (2016) as Kevin.
For years, no one other than Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson and Sofia Coppola knew what Bob whispered to Charlotte in the final scene, but on October 28, 2009, a YouTube video surfaced containing a slightly enhanced audio of this part of the film with subtitles where more than 20 thousand visitors had a chance to find out that Bob whispered to Charlotte: "When John is ready for his next business trip, go up to that man and tell him the truth, okay?" Another YouTube video, uploaded April 15, 2007, suggests that the line is: "I have to be leaving, but I won't let that come between us, OK?" Closer inspection seems to reveal that the opening words are "Promise me ..." and that the closest match to the audio is most likely, "Promise me, that the next thing you do, is go up to that man and tell him the truth."
In the hospital, the question that the elderly man with the cane tries to ask Bob (in Japanese) is: "How many years have you been in Japan?" Meanwhile, the diagnosis that Charlotte receives from the doctor (in Japanese) is that her toe is fractured, but taping is enough.
In the hospital waiting area where the old man tries to ask Bob how long he's been in Japan, the scene was allegedly improvised enough to where the two women sitting behind the men are attempting to stifle their laughter at the awkward exchange.