A few movies hit a flash point, where they come out at just the right time under just the right circumstance, and create a zeitgeist that stays with the film forever. Lost In Translation is one of those movies. Writer/director Sophia Coppola (daughter of Francis Ford Coppola) aroused interest when she made The Virgin Suicides with Kirsten Dunst and James Woods. But the warm critical reception in no way suggested the kind of unanimous praise critics and audiences alike poured on Lost In Translation. Watching it now, the gushing enthusiasm everyone had for the film almost seems at odds with the movie's simple nature (that doesn't mean the praise was undeserved, however).
The story centers around Bob Harris (Bill Murray), an aging acting star reduced to the role of shooting whiskey commercials in Japan. He's not depressed, exactly, he just seems to have lost his purpose. In the same hotel where he's staying, a pop photographer (Giovanni Ribisi) is shooting a band, and he's brought his wife Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) along with him for the trip. Charlotte's made her way to the same place as Bob by an alternate route: she has not yet found a purpose to her life. The two meet in the hotel. At first it's a short glance, then a brief conversation. Soon they discover they can't get away from each other, and the two kindred spirits unite to form a bond neither of them expected.
Sounds kind of trite, doesn't it? But for a woman who comes from Hollywood royalty, Sofia Coppola is decidedly anti-Hollywood. That isn't to say she actively rails against film conventions, but it's more like she pays them no heed. She fills the film with small, simple moments. The kind of moments you can appreciate when you're reflecting on the most personal aspects of your life. Even though the film is shot in Tokyo, Coppola doesn't try to show off the glamour of the city. Instead, she uses it as a backdrop of disconnection into which she can drop her main characters.
Ah, and what help she gets with those characters. As written, Bob and Charlotte aren't necessarily the deepest or most fully rounded, but Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson make them real. Murray especially gives a performance that reinvented his entire career (even though he still does stuff like Garfield). He uses the comic techniques he's developed over a lifetime of performing and folds them into a sly, observant character who knows maybe a little more about the world than he would like. It's a style he began developing in Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, but here we get the fully matured version, and it was a change of pace that Murray desperately needed.
Scarlett Johansson has the short end of the stick, seeing as how she's up against a pro discovering new things to augment his performance. But she performs admirably, and it's clear that Murray brings out something in her, just like Bob does to Charlotte. The scenes where they are together display a wonderful interplay, like they had worked together long before this. And while I've been a fan of Johansson ever since Ghost World, I have not seen her top her performance in Lost In Translation.
Lost In Translation works because it's so internal. Instead of beating you over the head with exposition or needlessly excessive dialogue, it just unfolds slowly, allowing you to take everything in and reflect on it. Without any kind of cinematic trickery, the film finds its own unique place and is content to just exist there. The fact that it garnered so much attention just shows that sometimes the simplest stories are the best ones.
The HD DVD:
Universal presents Lost In Translation in a 1.85:1 VC-1 encoded 1080p transfer. Much like the thematic content, the image in Lost In Translation is subdued. Most people look for "pop" in an HD transfer, and Lost In Translation pretty much doesn't have it. Where the transfer does excel, though, is in its clarity and depth. Every shot is crystal clear. Right in the opening shot, you can make out small lines on Scarlett's legs and you can see the weave of her panties and what's underneath them (really, this alone is reason to own the disc). Every shot is very clean, with a lot of depth. This transfer definitely reproduces the cinematic experience better than the DVD. It just doesn't "pop," is all.
The soundtrack for Lost In Translation can be summed up in two words: Dialogue and music. And this Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 track does a good job of reproducing those two elements. Dialogue is the paramount concern, and it's always clear and audible. The music is where the surrounds come in, enveloping you in the often atmospheric sounds on the soundtrack. Nothing earth-shattering, but more than adequate for the film.
All of the DVD extras have been ported over to this release, and none of them are in HD.
Lost On Location: A 30-minute fly on the wall documentary shot by Coppola's husband. There's no place Coppola's husband couldn't go, and he gets an excellent variety of on the set, off the set, location, and other behind the scenes shots. The best parts are Bill Murray joking around on set and looking like he's having the time of his life.
A Conversation With Bill Murray and Sofia Coppola: Bill Murray sports his Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou look as he and Sofia Coppola discuss the movie in retrospect. Murray takes charge, offering up most of the comments. Coppola looks awkward and mostly just agrees with Bill. Not a sufficient replacement for a full commentary, but very much worth seeing.
Deleted Scenes: 10 minutes of deleted footage, ranging from Bill Murray being silly to Scarlett Johansson seeing more of Japan and finding it rather strange. Some of the scenes are extraneous. Others would have fit perfectly into the film.
Matthew's Best Hit TV: The full clip of when Bob appears on a Japanese talk show. I may be wrong about this, but I've heard that Matthew's Best Hit TV is a real show in Japan.
"City Girl" Music Video By Kevin Shields: A music video from a song featured in the movie. Like many songs from movie soundtracks, the video has a lot of clips from the film. The song's not too bad.
Lost In Translation was a little gem of a movie that blew up into a massive jewel of a picture. This must have been my fifth or sixth time seeing the film, but it still retains its charm and its power. This HD DVD edition isn't going to blow anyone's mind with its sound and picture, but what we do get fits the film perfectly. The movie is so fantastic that it alone is enough to make this disc Highly Recommended.
Daniel Hirshleifer is the High Definition Editor for DVD Talk.