Lost in Translation (2003)
I remember watching Sofia Coppola in The Godfather Part III and, like many people, cringing at her less than convincing performance. Many frowned at the fact that she starred in a film directed by her father, nepotism in overdrive you might say, but in 2003 Sofia Coppola was the one that had the last laugh. She directed Lost in Translation which bagged 4 Oscar nominations, winning one for its wonderful screenplay, and it was a huge commercial success.
I remember hearing about Lost in Translation when it was first released and desperately wanted to go to the cinema to see it. For some reason I didn’t, instead buying the DVD when it was first released in the UK. Incidentally, I bought Spirited Away at the same time, and to this day I struggle to think of a better purchase I have made. I approached Lost in Translation with high expectations but amazingly it surpassed all of them.
On the surface you might wonder what all the fuss is about. Lost in Translation is not what you would call an action-packed or even eventful movie. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a washed up Hollywood actor who is in Tokyo to film a commercial for Suntory Whisky and to take part in related promotions for the brand. By chance, he meets Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) in the hotel bar one night. Charlotte has accompanied her photographer husband, John (Giovanni Ribisi), to Japan as he is doing photo shoots for a band. With her husband away all the time, Charlotte is left alone in a very different world to America. Amidst the confusion, isolation and distance from home, Bob and Charlotte strike up a brief but strong connection as they venture out onto the streets of Tokyo together.
Some might call Lost in Translation a romance but it really is about a brief, but profound, friendship between two people. We’ve all felt lost in a foreign land with language barriers, cultures and customs to adapt to, but for Bob and Charlotte, there is so much more to their feelings of maladjustment. They are both lost in Tokyo but lost at home, their lives having taken different turns, but both have been left unfulfilled and uncertain. Charlotte is a college graduate at the start of her life, while Bob is middle aged, his glory days over, but he soldiers on somehow in search of meaning and purpose. The friendship between Bob and Charlotte is both surprising, but at the same time, understandable. They can talk and empathise with one another, there are no restrictions, and their friendship allows them both to try and unravel their respective lives and find clarity.
There is so much to enjoy in Lost in Translation. Not only do we get an insight into Japanese life, which is often chaotic but sometimes tranquil dependent on where you are, we are also treated to a comedy masterclass from the ever reliable Bill Murray. Prior to this film, I had always rated Murray as an actor, but here he pushed himself hard. Yes, there’s the usual humour but Murray also gives us a tender and more serious side to Bob, who appears so fragile and broken at times. It’s a performance that rightly bagged Murray an Oscar nomination which sadly he didn’t win, losing out to Sean Penn for his role in Mystic River. Johansson also excels here as Charlotte who is smart, beautiful but painfully lonely with no one to turn to. Coppola blends the frantic world of Japan with the calm sanctuary of the hotel where Bob and Charlotte stay, and where they often have delicate discussions about their lives, where they are and where they want to be. In such a short space of time, Bob and Charlotte change each other for the better.
Lost in Translation may be one of those films where what is said is more important than what happens, but for me those are the hardest films to get right. Coppola scripted and directed this wonderful film and while many may dismiss her achievements given who her father is, this is very much her own work and an undoubted masterpiece at that. I’ve watched Lost in Translation many times and on each occasion I find myself lost in Japan, privileged to be both there and in Bob and Charlotte’s company for the duration. When it’s over the whole experience is always both beautiful and memorable.
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