September 25, 2003

Lost in Translation

I liked Sofia Coppola’s first film, The Virgin Suicides, on some levels and disliked it on others, however, Lost in Translation really shows her growth as a filmmaker mixing the always winning combination of great characters with an equally great setting.

Bill Murray plays Bob, an American movie star who comes to Japan to film a whiskey commercial for local brand, Suntory. Scarlett Johansson (yow) is Charlotte, a young wife who came along for the ride with her oblivious workaholic photographer husband. Charlotte’s husband is wrapped up in schmoozing with his dim subjects, while Bob’s wife is a half a world away occupied with home renovations and the kids. Obviously, this is a point of connection for the two, since they have nothing other than location in common with anyone else.

This isn’t the part that Bill Murray was born to play so much as it is the part Bill Murray has been growing into as of late, and he is spot on. Murray and Johansson have a wonderfully natural connection that feels heartfelt and unscripted. That is why the film hits on so many levels.

The obvious overtones and double meaning of the title reflect the feelings of exclusion and loneliness the characters experience, from their dry family lives to their current situation in a strange place with a strange language. There are plenty of visually breathtaking long shots of the characters staring out of their hotel room windows trying to take in and understand what the hell they are doing and where the hell they are, usually facilitated by their shared insomnia. Understanding little of what is being said to them (“lip them?!”) and little of what is going on around them, Japan might as well be another planet. It certainly shines as another costar, providing endless frustration and wonderment leading to bouts of dialogue and visual gag sequences. Some of these are beautifully encapsulated in scenes like the filming of a Suntory commercial where Bob is getting directed by way of shouts filtered through a soft-spoken, to-the-point translator (scene translated here).

Though together, Bob and Charlotte make their situation seem more tolerable, this isn’t a romantic movie about finding love so much as it is about letting things go and finding yourself, that and laughing at how fucking weird everything is in Japan.

Commentary (1):

1. Colin D. Devroe says… sep 29, 2003 | 1:25 pm

I have not seen the Virgin Suicides, nor have I seen Lost in Translation, however I plan to see both. On a different note, I just dropped by your website via an astranged link and decided to drop you a little note stating that your website is “off the heezy fo sheezy” and have bookmarked it for later scrutiny and reading.