Middle-aged American movie star Bob Harris is in Tokyo to film a personal endorsement Suntory whiskey ad solely for the Japanese market. He is past his movie star prime, but his name and image still have enough cachet for him to have gotten this lucrative $2 million job. He has an unsatisfying home life where his wife Lydia follows him wherever he goes - in the form of messages and faxes - for him to deal with the minutiae of their everyday lives, while she stays at home to look after their kids. Staying at the same upscale hotel is fellow American, twenty-something recent Yale Philosophy graduate Charlotte, her husband John, an entertainment still photographer, who is on assignment in Japan. As such, she is largely left to her own devices in the city, especially when his job takes him out of Tokyo. Both Bob and Charlotte are feeling lost by their current situations, which are not helped by the cultural barriers they feel in Tokyo, those cultural barriers extending far beyond just not...Written by
Bill Murray's "Best Picture" introduction of "Lost in Translation" on the 2004 Academy Awards began with the following anecdote. "2 days into filming, four members of the Tokyo crew wanted to quit because they felt the director didn't know what she doing. We were politely denied" (meaning he was one of them). See more »
In the amusement arcade where Charlotte watches the boy playing the electric guitar game, a man in a red baseball cap walks away from the camera behind the boy. In the next shot (reverse angle) the man is seen playing an arcade game using an infrared gun. See more »
The equivalent of cinematic fishing - once you're hooked, the film isn't letting you go
Lost in Translation details the kind of wayward search for human connection many of us go through in life, sometimes young, sometimes old, or following a traumatic event. It's the time in our lives when we feel the most lost, and truthfully, many of us don't want answers as to how to better our situation, but just want somebody to go along for the ride. We'd like to find someone to empathize with, embrace on a frequent basis, and know that somebody cares about us and our wayward ways and to reciprocate such feelings.
With this, Sofia Coppola writes and directs a film about that search for human connection and what it can exactly amount to. We are immediately introduced to Bob Harris (Bill Murray), an older American movie star who travels to Tokyo to film an advertisement for Suntory whiskey. Bob has found himself in the mix of a souring marriage and no real close friends, and it is in Tokyo where Bob sinks deeper and deeper into a midlife crisis. Meanwhile, we also meet Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a college graduate whose husband John (Giovanni Ribisi) is starting to lose interest in her in favor of all the models he works with.
Later on, Bob and Charlotte finally meet and immediately recognize each others unfortunate situation. They spend sporadic amounts of time together, often not talking and simply speaking in fragmented sentences and lying next to one another. They aren't very concerned with long conversation; they simply let their lethargy in their current situations carry their relationship along.
Over time, sexual tension between the two builds, though both of them are still caught in relationships, regardless of how mediocre they are. In addition, neither of them are quite sure how to conjure intimacy with one another. The two are much more in tune with being static beings and platonic. This is one of the few dramas I can recall that allows the presence of the characters to take over rather than their actions. Coppola sits back and watches with a keen eye and a sense of mannered restraint how Bob and Charlotte get close over the course of their visit in Tokyo.
Coppola's interest lies in Bob and Charlotte's situation moreso than the progression of their relationship, which is a difficult thing to pull off in film without working with more of an impressionistic style. The brushstrokes Coppola paints this story in are more or less minimal, but they craft just enough out of a little so that we can recognize these characters, their feelings, and their current state. They have transcended living life into simply existing within it, rarely getting excited and scarcely finding any kind of mutual contentment.
Again, in these situations, all you need is another soul who feels the same way you do, and in this case, that's bottled up angst and complete and total uncertainty. The title represents a lot of things and the cultural gap Bob and Charlotte experience is only a small part of it; these two souls are lost within the translation of life. Life has keep going and two formerly active people who could keep up with the bustle have let it all pass by, letting sadness dominate their lives and fogginess encapsulate the remnants of the future. The translation lost is within the characters here, and that's sometimes scarier than not speaking the same language of the community.
The only issue that arises from this is that we get the impression that Coppola either doesn't understand Japanese culture or simply doesn't want to, what with the abundance of cheap stereotypes and archetypal Japanese characters played for nothing but laughs here. Coppola opens by ostensibly getting most out of her way, thankfully, however, through the use of subtle humor, but sporadically doubles back to throw in another jab or two, which can briefly throw the film out of whack. It reminds me of when a really artsy film wants to try and pander and connect with the audience when it thinks it has lot them, and, as shown here amidst others, the action has the opposite effect.
However, Murray and Johansson craft wonderful, low-key chemistry here. Murray's subtle sarcasm and overall cynicism are downplayed but in force here, as he employs facial expressions that speak louder than words could. He fully shows how he can be a hilarious comic presence and a fascinating, real dramatic presence and merge the two in one project, proving nothing but great range and ability on his behalf. Johansson, who was only eighteen during the time this was being filmed, bears mannerisms and a self-assured aura that would be more expected from someone ten years older than her. Such lofty material is presented and she handles the task of not being too theatrical or obvious very well, and it's a performance that requires both actors to place a reliance on their body language and facial expressions. This was by no means an easy role for Johansson, yet she breaks out with it and becomes a force all her own.
Lost in Translation details a difficult time in a person's life and, in the process, doesn't sugarcoat it. The lack of human connection and the feelings of hopelessness, regardless of short-term or long-term, are debilitating to a person, and this film goes on to show to reiterate my idea about life: if we didn't have at least one of these things - a passion, a good relationship with family, or close friends and people to connect with - we would jump out a window.
Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanna Ribisi, and Anna Faris. Directed by: Sofia Coppola.
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