Mar 25, 2015

Review: Lost in Translation (2003)

Lost in Translation has been on my list of "I'm Embarrassed I Haven't Seen This Film Yet" for quite some time. I mean we're talking about a movie that's been on the receiving end of an unbelievable amount of critical praise when it was first released and subsequently in more recent years. LiT most likely would've won Best Picture at the Academy Awards if The Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King had come out any other year.

I've noticed that there does seem to be a difference between Sofia Coppola's earlier and later films. I haven't quite seen all her filmography yet, but besides The Virgin Suicides I've also seen The Bling Ring. While Coppola pays very close attention to her characters and her story in LiT and TVS, The Bling Ring in comparison feels relatively vapid if nice from a stylistic point of view. I get the impression that Marie Antoinette and Somewhere are more in line with TBR. I could be wrong, but that's just what I get. Anyway, I'm curious to see where Sofia's newer moves take her. She's got stylistic flair but also a talent for writing stories and characters.


Genre: drama
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Produced by: Sofia Coppola, Ross Katz, Francis Ford Coppola, etc.
Written by: Sofia Coppola
Music by: Kevin Shields
Running time: 101 minutes
Production company: American Zoetrope, Elemental Films, Focus Features, etc.
Distributed by: Focus Features, Momentum Pictures, Constantin Film, etc.
Country: United States, Japan
Language: English, Japanese
Budget: $4,000,000
Box office: $119,723,856 (Worldwide)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris, Fumihiro Hayashi, Akiko Takeshita, Fran├žois Du Bois, Takashi Fujii, Hiromix, Kazuyoshi Minamimagoe, Kazuko Shibata



Action movie star Bob Harris (Bill Murray) arrives in Tokyo, Japan to shoot a commercial for Suntory whisky. He's jet lagged, but his exhaustion goes far beyond a simple time zone difference. His marriage is failing and he could be going through a midlife crisis. Staying in the same hotel is Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) who's been married to her photographer husband for two years now. She's unsure of her marriage as well and doesn't know what she wants to do with her life. The two end up forming an unlikely connection despite their differences.


The beauty of Lost in Translation definitely lies in its subtlety. One way you can see that is in how the city of Tokyo is shown. It's just so different from what Bob and Charlotte know. They don't necessarily say as much, but Coppola makes sure that you know that's what they're thinking. Besides the obvious language barriers, everything from the way the city looks to how it sounds is practically alien. Sofia Coppola just does an amazing job at putting the viewer in the shoes of the main characters so that we too feel that cultural chasm that they feel.

The other way that subtlety and patience rules the day in LiT is with the characters and their story. Sofia Coppola doesn't tell you straight away that Bob Harris was an action star. We're simply shown a billboard in Tokyo for Santory whiskey with Harris on it. Bit by bit we're shown more about Harris' life through dialogue that never necessarily spells everything out by the letter. Still, we're able to eventually piece together that he's a fading action star who's got nothing left to do but these silly Japanese advertisements. Like a good book, LiT keeps you on your toes.

The relationship that forms between Bob Harris and Charlotte is particularly fascinating. They don't even speak to each other in their first few scenes together. They eventually do get talking and it's predictably awkward at first as it should be. I mean, they're not the same age and they come from completely different backgrounds. They find their footing eventually and it's beautiful in a very quiet way. There will be times where they don't say a word to one another because quite simply, they understand each other despite being surrounded by an ocean that they don't understand.

Bill Murray is a revelation in Lost in Translation. Pure and simple. I've always known he was good, but he's in a whole other category of good here. He's delicately funny, but also quite sad and melancholic. Sofia Coppola apparently would not have made LiT if she couldn't get Murray to commit to the role and I can totally understand why. This role was made for him like a tailored suit and there's no way any other actor in Hollywood could've pulled Bob Harri off as Bill Murray did.

Scarlett Johansson is another huge success in terms of acting and fit. She seems far older than her eighteen years suggest and she seems very at home opposite veteran actor Bill Murray. Her character is going through what many young people do, being unsure of she wants to do with her life which is something many people can understand. Being in the middle of such unfamiliar surroundings doesn't help at all either and overall I feel that Johansson wins empathy from the viewer for her character just as well as Bill Murray does. That's no small praise.

The way in which the "connection" between Bob and Charlotte evolves is very natural and believable. Their age differences are of course there, but it never even feels weird. The story of Lost in Translation actually ends up feeling too short and I mean that in a good way. You want it to be longer, but Sofia Coppola has very good reasons to wrap things up quickly. The ending is also something extremely special and is one of the most memorable endings to a movie that I've seen in recent memory.

I expected Lost in Translation to be good, but not as good as it ended up being. Driven by a great story, wonderful visuals and world class performances, it's a must see for everyone. The Virgin Suicides may have been great as a rookie film for Sofia Coppola, but her sophomore effort Lost in Translation is a modern classic.



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