In association with
Review published
September 26, 2003
A.J.'s Rating:  4 Stars
Lost in Translation
Directed By:  Sofia Coppola
Written By:  Sofia Coppola
Starring:  Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris, Akiko Takeshita, Catherine Lambert, Takashi Fujii

MPAA:  Rated R for some sexual content.

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    Lost in Translation invites us to spend a few days in Japan with two Americans, Bob and Charlotte.  Bob, played by Bill Murray, is an aging movie star who has come to Tokyo to shoot a whiskey commercial.  Bob's career has seen better days, and he is just beginning to realize that selling booze may now be the most marketable use for his famous face.  We're talking serious mid-life crisis here, people!  Charlotte, played by Scarlett Johansson, is 22, a Yale graduate, and recently married.  She's travelling with her husband, a show-biz photographer, who is in Tokyo on a business trip.  Charlotte is just beginning to realize that her marriage may not be the romantic, carefree existence she once imagined.  So much for 'happily-ever-after'!  It seems she's forgotten to ask, "After what?"  Bob and Charlotte are staying in the same hotel, and meet while taking refuge in the hotel lounge.  What follows is a fascinating story of human connection and discovery, as they soon find that in these unfamiliar surroundings, all they can really relate to is each other. 

    As movie characters, Bob and Charlotte are surprisingly complex.  Psychologically, they are two sides of the same coin.  While Charlotte questions the path her life is taking, Bob questions the path his life has already followed.  And both are pondering that ultimate 'soulmate' question... what if I've picked the wrong one?  Writer/director Sofia Coppola has chosen to express many of these ideas through Bob and Charlotte's behaviors and attitudes toward themselves and others in the film, rather than through lengthy, contrived dialogue.  In addition, the film is shown exclusively from Bob and Charlotte's distinctly American perspectives.  This decision risks having the supporting characters, as well as Japanese culture, appear stereotypical to the casual viewer.  Ironically, it actually serves to illustrate that Bob and Charlotte are both privileged, self-centered, stereotypical 'Americans' throughout most of the film.  Again, Coppola implies much more than is actually stated.  Such respect for the intelligence of the viewing audience is refreshing, especially coming from an American filmmaker!
    Now, on to the performances.  If you're a Bill Murray fan, you may be wondering, "What's so funny about all of this?"   Well, my answer is that, as a fan, you should already know.  Murray is one of those few actors who can be funny at will. He doesn't need props.  He doesn't need dialogue.  All he really needs is an audience.  His performance in this film is both comedic and poignant, a compelling combination that should not come as a surprise.  After all, we've already seen glimpses of his true acting genius in films such as Rushmore, Groundhog Day, and even Kingpin.  In Lost in Translation, he conveys an incredible depth of feeling as Bob Harris, balancing his inherent 'funny-man' persona with a heartfelt weariness that is quite powerful and very realistic.  Of course, I must also mention Scarlett Johannson's acting, which was fantastic as well!  Her performance is a study in quiet intensity, further confirming that she is one of today's brightest rising stars.
    So, if you're looking for a movie that can be described as 'wacky', this isn't it. But, if you're looking for a film that is intelligent, thoughtful, emotional, and also funny, consider your search complete.  You've just found Lost in Translation.
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