Movie Notes: Lost In Translation

September 20, 2007

Lost In Translation

4 stars = 4 stars

Starring Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson
Directed by Sofia Coppola

I’ve seen Lost In Translation twice, in the theater and again on DVD after a first trip to Japan. Oddly enough, it moved much more quickly the second time.

Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a celebrity in Tokyo to film some commercials for Suntory whiskey. While not on the job, he bides time in the hotel bar. Enter Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), the wife of an in-demand photographer (Giovanni Ribisi). She has no reason to be in Japan, but in looking for something to pass the time, finds an accomplice in Bob. Neither is having an exceptionally fun time as strangers in a strange land.

Bill Murray is sublimely funny, living the odd trend of Western celebrities taking on Japanese sponsors. Bill finds stress-relieving entertainment at the expense of the locals and their strange ways – due to the culture barrier they don’t get the sarcasm in his gentle voice or actions. But he’s only amusing himself – which serves to emphasize his loneliness.

The film captures the bewildering “parallel universe” feeling of being a foreigner in Japan – an entire world has developed that’s as modern (and in many ways, more so) as the West – it’s familiar yet alien. There’s a sense that life is rushing by without you, and you’re a spectator, blocked from participation by the culture and language barriers.

The ultimate irony is that in the bustling, busy city of Tokyo, a foreigner can feel utterly alone. This is what draws Bob and Charlotte together – not in a romantic sense, but because they’re both in marriages that feel slightly off, and once alone in Japan, they are given the time to contemplate their lives back home.

Some of the film’s funnier moments (to me, at least) are Bob’s whiskey commercial where he is told “more feeling” after receiving directions that seem too simple for the amount of Japanese words spoken, the nutty talk show with cartoon overlays, and a minimalist strip club that Charlotte saves Bob from.

As for Coppola’s direction – the most striking thing is how this film feels like a documentary, with the various characters completely believable and their emotions genuine.

IMDB: Lost In Translation
Wikipedia: Lost In Translation
Rotten Tomatoes: Lost In Translation 95%