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    Lost in Translation

    Lost but not least

    Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation" is a patient and poignant look into two temporarily intersecting lives, featuring Bill Murray's best-ever performance.


    When culture shock looms large, two unlikely Americans in Tokyo find mutual comfort and companionship in Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation."

    Written and directed by: Sofia Coppola.
    Cast: Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Akiko Takeshita, Kazuyoshi Minamimagoe, Kazuko Shibata, Take, Ryuichiro Baba, Akira Yamaguchi, Catherine Lambert, Fran¨ois du Bois, Tim Leffman, Gregory Pekar, Richard Allen, Giovanni Ribisi, Yutaka Tadokoro.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a Hollywood movie star shooting a Japanese whiskey commercial. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is in town with her workaholic photographer who's shooting a rock band. Bob and Charlotte first exchange shooting glances — a smile — in an elevator filled with Japanese businessmen. The fact that they tower over their co-riders is not lost to either of them.

    But something is lost here. Bob's married with kids. Not so much unhappily as mundanely, perhaps. His children miss him but he senses he's not really needed at home. His take-charge wife (whom we never see; I imagined someone like Rita Wilson) faxes him in the middle of the night, insensitive to — or grossly unaware of — the time difference. She FedExes him carpet samples for this study, indicating a preference for burgundy (they all look burgundy to Bob, or none of them do). He calls his wife once in the middle of the Tokyo night — his daughter Zo‘ is refusing to eat breakfast — and realizes it was a bad idea. He can't sleep.

    Lost in Translation  
    Charlotte doesn't quite know what she does yet. A Yale grad married two years to John (Giovanni Ribisi), she's tried writing but didn't like what she wrote. There was photography, of course — "all girls have their photography phase" — but nothing currently. She loves her husband — she tells him so — but he seems young, distractible. And when a vivacious actress friend shows up in the lobby one morning, John is more distracted than usual, a fact that Charlotte doesn't fail to notice. She takes in the local color — the ornate temples and shrines and the neon-lit business districts with their looming billboards and the noisy video parlors — and she swims late, in the hotel pool. She can't sleep.

    One sleepless night, Bob and Charlotte hook up in the hotel bar. And it's the beginning of one of the happiest, saddest, most genuine relationships ever put on film.

    With everything around them overwhelmingly alien — the language, the food, the customs — Bob and Charlotte find normalcy and laughter and friendship in each other's presence, a much-needed connection in a sprawling metropolis that, like them, never sleeps.

      Lost in Translation
    In lesser films, the fact that Bob is in his mid-50s and Charlotte in her early 20s would be significant, played upon. But it isn't here. Writer/director Coppola's bittersweet follow-up to "The Virgin Suicides", her stunning directorial debut of four years ago, is a superb achievement of subtlety and nuance. While some might be worried, even titillated, as to where this relationship is heading, Coppola isn't. She writes from the heart, giving her actors words to shape and room to improvise.

    Murray, who's simply amazing, seems so natural you wonder if scripting his dialogue was ever a consideration. Johansson too is perfect, reflecting just the right amount of beauty and innocence. Even when Bob and Charlotte do kiss, in a climactic scene in which the characters share an intimacy that we, the audience, are not privy to (as it should be), it's touchingly non-sexual, much like the times when Charlotte places her head on Bob's shoulder, or Bob places his hand on Charlotte's foot.

    If voyeurism didn't have such negative sexual-predator overtones, I would admit to wanting to watch Bob and Charlotte hang out together forever. Funny and achingly poignant, "Lost in Translation" is an intelligent, beautifully rendered film that provides no easy answers, either for its characters or the viewer. It's Murray's best-ever performance, and one of the year's best films.

    SEPTEMBER 27, 2003

    Reader comments on Lost in Translation:

  • Sofia's catching up   from ethan, Sep 28, 2003
  • Lost in T.   from Don John, Jan 30, 2004
  • Re: Lost in T.   from just me, Feb 17, 2004
  • Lost in the belly of digestion!   from Jack Flynn, Mar 22, 2004
  • Re: Lost in the belly of digestion! the antidote   from Paul from Cracoe/Rylstone, Apr 7, 2004

  • Post a comment on "Lost in Translation"