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ANNALS OF TECHNOLOGY

They still sting in any language

November 16, 2003|Michael T. Jarvis

The movie "Lost in Translation" has generated plenty of head scratching and naval gazing surrounding Japanese culture, but considerable speculation on the Internet centers on one scene: "What was that guy shooting at Bill Murray and his friends when they ran out of that bar?" Internet theories include a laser machine gun, glow-in-the-dark bullets and a BB gun.

An entry at livejournal.com asks, "Just what ... was that one dude shooting during the bar scene? BBs? Lasers?"

On Amazon.com, a reviewer explains: "It was just a toy laser/light rifle with very strong sound effects! Cute. Wacky. Fun. Drunken. Just like the best of the nightlife there."

Actually, the device wasn't a laser but a Japanese-made Marui Tracer, a rechargeable fluorescent strobe that can be installed on rifles to illuminate brightly colored plastic BBs and produce a synchronized streak of light resembling a laser.

"This is the system we used," says K.K. Barrett, the production designer for the Focus Features film, who found the tracer in a toy store in Harijuku, Japan. "I should also note that we had a stunt effects marksman shooting these things. During the test, the marksman shot it at the back of his thick-jacket clad partner and he said he could definitely feel it but it was a sting and it seemed innocent for our purposes under supervision. In fact, it looked fun but certainly something to run from."

The scene came off better on film than expected, Barrett says. "We did a film test and although we were delighted by eye, they didn't glow as long as we had hoped from the strobe light charge, although it appears it was enough to get across the experience."

-- Michael T. Jarvis

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