The color palette and lighting of a film are two elements that are often overlooked in storytelling. Similar to how color and light affect the mood of a room, they also set the tone of a film. A very good example would be Lost in Translation by Sofia Coppola which depicts the relationship of two Americans in the city of Tokyo. This film is one of my favorites for two main reasons; first, because of the heartwarming story and realistic characters, and second, due to the amazing cinematography by Lance Acord.


The film has a myriad of color palettes that shift depending on the characters. Charlotte, the female protagonist, has a color palette consisting of soft pastels. This is apparent in the scenes of her alone in her room, practicing ikebana, and solo-traveling in Kyoto. Shades of cream and light pink are prevalent in the shot above. This is symbolic of her youth, naivety, and femininity. She’s a young college graduate who is married to a photographer on assignment in Tokyo. She joins him in Japan but is eventually ignored, leading her to wonder about the entire point of their relationship.

Lost in Translation (2003) ©  Focus Features

Bob, the male protagonist, has a palette that is darker and consists of blue, black, and amber. You can see these especially in the scenes of him alone in his car, in the elevator, and in his bedroom, as seen above. These dark hues are symbolic of his maturity and masculinity. Bob is an actor going through a midlife crisis due to his waning career and failing marriage. His life is clouded with uncertainty and he is losing himself amidst all the problems in his life.

Lost in Translation (2003) ©  Focus Features

If you watch closely, you also notice that the entirety of the film has a hazy tone to it. This represents the disillusionment in both characters’ lives. They are in a dream-like state; present, but distracted by their longing for something more. Their lives as they know it are both empty and lack human connection. Certain tones and colors have the ability to evoke a particular emotion. Sepia evokes nostalgia, warm yellow evokes happiness, and in this case, whitish-grey tone used in the film evokes dreaminess.


Acord’s stunning cinematography is largely credited to his use of lighting. Lighting is always important when setting the tone and atmosphere of a scene. It represent the emotional state of the characters throughout the film. The film revolves around the two characters who seek comfort in their friendship with one another, which is why the colors and lighting are warmer in scenes where Bob and Charlotte are together; this is exemplified the most in the bar scene where the two first meet and speak. The warm lighting literally translates to their friendship while the cool lighting when they are alone (or confiding in one another) indicates feelings of loneliness.

Lost in Translation (2003) ©  Focus Features
Lost in Translation (2003) ©  Focus Features

One notable use of lighting is the contrast between light and shadow. You can see this in the scenes of Charlotte looking over Tokyo. The scene shifts its focus from the city on the background to Charlotte, leaving Tokyo behind her in a shadowy blur. It symbolizes the uncertainty about her life, both in her career and in her relationship. She’s engrossed in the unknown possibilities about her future, and the doubt she is trying to confront is represented by the vast city of Tokyo in the background. Shadows give character to a setting because it adds an element of mystery, making the shot much more alluring.


“Home” is depicted in this film as an emotional connection between two people despite their physical distances from their respective hometowns. Bob and Charlotte are both Americans who stumbled upon Tokyo for their personal reasons. Their state of detachment from Tokyo mirrors their detachment from their own lives. They yearn for friendship and warmth and found it in each other; they sought solace in one another, relishing in that feeling of familiarity despite the unfamiliar setting, literally and figuratively. The concept of home in this sense is not merely a physical one but an emotional one. They feel at home, comfortable and happy in their own friendship.

Lost in Translation (2003) © Focus Features


Lighting and color are important in film because they help enrich the story. They say a lot about the characters and their emotions throughout the course of the film. Similar to interior design, these elements set the mood of a scene. Each tone has a specific meaning, which is why they are often allotted to a certain scene or character. One of the reasons why I consider Lost in Translation to be on of my favorites is due to of the masterful use of these elements. Without them, the film would simply fall flat.

Last year, I took part in a pilgrimage to Mount Putuo, one of China’s five major Buddhist religious mountains. Hauled along by an energetic tour guide who explained everything in either Mandarin or Fukien (ergo I didn’t really understand much), we snaked around the busy streets of Shanghai and paid our respects to a multitude of ancient Chinese temples in the nearby provinces.

Now when you think of the word “pilgrimage,” you think of a quiet, spiritual experience through a billowing cloud of incense smoke, of monks draped in bright orange robes, and of fellow pilgrims offering a small prayer to the assembly of Buddhist gods before them. All of these things were there, but multiply the pilgrims exponentially. We literally had to make our way through a sea of humanity just to get to the different temples within Mount Putuo.

The weather was hot and humid as we navigated through the crowd, trying to avoid getting burnt by the hundreds of smoldering incense sticks that were being wielded around like weapons. Finally, after a tiring day of climbing up and down stairs (and after a lifetime’s worth of breathing in incense smoke) in Mount Putuo, we were finally whisked away to the secluded village of Wuzhen Water Town.

It was like being transported back in time. Lining the sides of the canals were small, traditional houses with their mossy roof tiles, weather-beaten walls, and ornate wooden windows. Constructed with a mix of rough concrete, exposed bricks, and dark wooden panels, the village gave off a feeling of an unpolished hidden gem, something that has remained untouched for centuries. It would really seem like you were back in ancient China if it weren’t for the occasional air conditioning system that popped out of some of the houses.

In the mornings, the sun cast a soft glow onto the picturesque village of Wuzhen. The mix of neutral grays, innocuous whites, and deep browns of the houses’ walls and rooftops were accented with bursts of green from the trees and shrubs that grew along the riverside. With the morning fog and its palette being so close to nature, the scene looked like something straight out of an ancient Chinese landscape painting.

As the sun set, however, the streets and houses were lit up, mantling the village in a mystical, almost eerie glow. Red and yellow paper lanterns lent their otherworldly light in dim alleyways. The morning’s calm and cool undertones of Wuzhen melted away into a tinge of warm amber. Ruby and gold-colored reflections danced along the dark waters of the canals, disturbed only by passing wooden boats.

It’s amazing how a difference in lighting can change a place so dramatically! Wuzhen Water Town was the perfect destination after such a tiring day at the temples. Its quiet, provincial atmosphere was peaceful, warm, and welcoming.

Though separated from the hustle and bustle of the big cities, the village pulsated with its own unique kind of energy—you just need to wait until the sun sets.

After every school day, when my ten-year old son comes home from school, I greet him with a chirpy, “How was school today?” He smilingly greets me back with a kiss, “It was ok,” he cheerfully answers. Then I reply with something like, “Have something to eat, rest a bit, then we’ll study.”  And just like that, as if on cue, a monster of a wail is heard within the walls of our entire house. The message is clear: I’m not in the mood to study. Rewind, playback. This scene is all too familiar for most moms or dads who take on the tutor role for their child.

The Pout makes a special appearance when it’s study time.

It has always been a struggle between my son and me to go through our daily task of studying for quizzes, answering homework, and doing projects, and to finish it without resorting to what is seemingly like the makings of the next civil war. Sometimes, we’d finish late at night, which would mean that going to school wide awake the next day would be a struggle.

Sleepless in the city

Admittedly, my patience for tutoring my youngest is more finite now compared to then when I taught my two other older sons in their younger years. But hey, if you’ve been tutoring for the past 15 years, you’re entitled to get cranky during study time too, right? Well, right or wrong, the fact is study time had become a point of conflict between the two of us, and we both weren’t happy about that.

Since I didn’t want anymore squabbles of any kind, I devised ways to make our study landscape more cheerful and friendly. Here are 5 tips:

1.  Room color affects your mood.

Interior design books always discuss how there is a direct correlation between colors and moods, and the color of one’s room is no exception.  One can’t undervalue the importance of choosing the right color scheme to have a more conducive place to study.  For example, green walls make for a restful place and a calm green pastel may be good to quiet down a kid and get him into a study mode. For our part, we opted to color the kids’ room in neutral tones of beiges and off-whites, which the kids found very comfortable.

2.  Proper lighting is equally important.

My eldest son kept on wondering why he felt sleepy when reading in at the study table in his room. On closer inspection, we realized that the room didn’t have ample lighting, which contributed to his feeling of being lulled to sleep. We made provisions and added more pin lights, and lo and behold…we finally saw the light! No more drowsy spells.

3.  Provide your child with a ‘study headquarters’.

If Batman has a bat cave, by all means give your kid a study cave. When we were filling up my son’s information sheet for his new school, we got stumped with this question. “Does your child have an appropriate, properly lighted and organized study area in your house?” or something to that effect. A study headquarters is an important prerequisite for a more productive study period because once your child goes to his study area, he would have already psyched himself up for study time and is therefore more prepared to focus. It is of course par for the course that any presence of a gadget on his study cave should only be for the purpose of research or as a study tool.

Not exactly the most organized study table, but it helps to have a properly designated study area.

4.  Provide distractions.

Yes, distractions can be a good thing. It keeps the study session from getting boring, and serves as a bridge when assignments are especially tedious and lengthy. My son loves to hang out in the nipa huts scattered around our village park, and in one particular moody afternoon that he was having, he wanted to go to the park but had yet to finish his school work. Problem, right? Later on, I realized that the whining to go to the park was actually a solution. We headed off to the park, brought along his school stuff, and spent the rest of our tutor period studying inside the nipa hut. Cool! Some kids also concentrate better with relaxing music playing in the background. Easy, play some music.

Productive Distraction

5.  When you talk about studying, use the right tone.

I belatedly noticed that since our study time was becoming stressful for me, I’d usually summon my stern mommy voice when it was study time, thinking that this will get the message across quicker. Rather than helping, the result was counterproductive. My son started feeling the stress in my voice, and would automatically proceed to grumpy mode. I made the necessary adjustments, started sounding more cheerful about the whole thing, and he started responding positively as well. No more grouchy face, his and mine.

There are more ways that we could help our children develop a love and habit for studying. But first, we also have to explore what works for them. Once a child’s study area is established, the learning process will be much easier.