Lost in Translation
Lost in Translation is the kind of film which is deeply affecting but in ways which are hard to express in words. I loved this movie for its ability to evoke feelings in me that I have before never experienced while watching a film, but are familiar from life: the loneliness of traveling alone, a crisis of identity, a profound connection with a complete stranger. It is a film where the most interesting moments are mere speculations as to the characters' thoughts and feelings.
A young Yale graduate named Charlotte and a has-been Hollywood actor named Bob find themselves out of context and lost in the strange world of modern day Tokyo. Separately, they cling to existence within the walls of their posh American hotel suffering from insomnia and uncertainty about their place in the world. Their individual explorations into city are empty and bewildering and the audience shares in their experience as none of the Japanese characters has subtitled dialogue. Their feelings of alienation are intensified as they observe the other Americans delving easily into the prescribed tourist activities of karaoke, exotic strip clubs, and heavy drinking.
After several near-meetings, Charlotte and Bob finally strike up a conversation and we begin to discover who they really are. Before their meeting, neither character has much of an identity beyond their title as "Philosophy major and wife," or "American Actor." They bring out the personality in each other and the movie begins to blossom. Together they traipse around Tokyo, still aimless but better off for having someone to share the experience with. Their relationship is indescribable other than one of an intense camaraderie that is powerful but never dangerous. It's a relationship which must be seen to be understood.
Lost in Translation is by no means a film for those with short attention spans, but it's no bore either. For every long take of Scarlett Johansson staring out a window, there is a scene of Bill Murray floundering on a bizarre Japanese TV show or struggling with a showerhead that's too short for him. To spice up the scenes of Tokyo nightlife, Coppola employs DV-style shooting tactics (though still using film) giving these segments the feeling of a frenetic dream.
In the hands of another director, Lost in Translation would be a wreck. The plot lacks clear-cut conflict and the success of the story rests entirely on the chemistry and believability of the characters' relationship. Coppola (who also penned the script) squeezes out the story a little at a time capturing every drop of emotional complexity: be it the slightest nuance of a glance or the poetic viewing of a classic Italian film. Bill Murray tempers the comedy to fit the role and revisits the more serious realm he first explored in Rushmore. Moreover he maintains a complex relationship with the eighteen-year-old Johannson (in her first adult role) that somehow isn't the least bit creepy.
Lost in Translation is unique film about those profound moments you have in a strange place and the relationships that only last a few days but stay with you always. But above all, Lost in Translation is a film which distinguishes Sofia Coppola as a rare and talented young filmmaker.
-Megan A. Denny
Read Megan Denny's interview with Lost in Translation writer/ director Sofia Coppola.