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Wednesday, April 14, 2004

VIPs made to feel at home in the Hyatt's floating world


Special to The Japan Times

The Park Hyatt Tokyo is, as Coppola has described it, a quiet floating island 39 floors above the cacophony and chaos of Shinjuku. Occupying the top 14 floors of the 52-story Shinjuku Park Tower, the hotel exudes an aura of calm and comfort that has induced many CEOs and celebrities -- including Coppola and her more famous father, Francis -- to become repeat visitors.

News photo
Park Hyatt butler Kirsten Henning

However, with three employees for every guest, the hotel's ambience is hardly effortless. The solicitousness that greets Bill Murray's character every time he enters or exits the hotel -- a line of black-clad attendants opening doors and holding elevators -- is evident to even the casual visitor. (And if you want the full experience firsthand, you can even sign up for a "Lost in Translation" package that the hotel is offering.)

Murray spends a lot of screen-time looking a little lost and at the mercy of his handlers, but in reality the hotel tries to make sure VIPs feel comfortable by providing the most exclusive of services: a butler.

"They are supposed to be the center of attention, but in fact they have no control," says Kirsten Henning, the hotel's 26-year-old bilingual butler, who looks after the more glamorous guests.

"They are jet-lagged, and most will only stay for a few days at most. And they are in a pressure cooker of press conferences and nonstop interviews."

"That is one thing that a lot of staff picked up on in the movie," says Henning of Murray's character appearing helpless. "My guests are never like that that. I'm there at the right time. Or at least people say that I am."

The hotel's strict policy of discretion means that most of Henning's clients cannot be named but since the Hyatt hosts more than 30 film-release press conferences a year, they include some of the biggest stars in the film industry. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer ("Pirates of the Caribbean") and director Peter Jackson ("Lord of the Rings") are among them.

Henning's job is to be the conduit between not only the guest and the hotel, but also between the guest and Japan. "I have to satisfy their requests, but more than anything, I have to anticipate what will make their stay more successful," she says.

For individuals used to getting what they want, when they want it, the complexities of a different culture are difficult to fathom. "Stars just don't have a sense of what is available here," says Henning.

Even the simplest things can be difficult. "The Sunday New York Times takes two days to get and costs nearly 4,000 yen."

A request for "you know . . . that famous Japanese lotion" sends Henning on a hunting trip. A desire for the latest designer bag finds her negotiating with the staff of the city's upscale boutiques.

It is precisely the Park Hyatt's reputation as an oasis -- a private, discrete escape for its guests -- that made getting permission to film "Lost in Translation" difficult.

Though Federico Fellini's sketches decorate many of the walls, and though many other posh hotels such as the Plaza in New York and the Ritz in Paris have been movie backdrops, filming had never been permitted at the Park Hyatt. According to the hotel's international PR representative Karina Shima, even requests for photo shoots are generally turned down.

But by agreeing to film only between midnight and 6 a.m., Coppola was allowed to use the hotel. Even then, the crew had to work both fast and light, actually benefiting from an indie budget that didn't allow for a long shooting schedule (they filmed in the hotel for about two weeks).

Space was also at a premium. To keep disruptions to a minimum, the hotel's Diplomat Suite was used for both Charlotte's and Bob's rooms, with the sitting room reorganized to be one bedroom. In reality, the suite, complete with baby grand piano and silver service is even more sumptuous than in the movie.

Should a guest not like the pillow in the room, the hotel has a book describing the 10 different types available. If housekeeping sees that a guest has used a full bottle of the tony Aesop brand shampoo provided in each guest room, the guest will find two the next time. For VIPs, all such details are carefully recorded in preparation for their next stay.

And for stars with really obscure or strange requests, Henning is at hand. The most difficult?

"Apple sauce," says Henning. "I've been really surprised at just how normal people really are."



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