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Lost In Translation
USA 2003
Directed by Sofia Coppola
Running time 105 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Mike Esler
3.5 stars


Synopsis: Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) are attached, sleepless and lonely in Japan.

What better country to film a story of western dislocation and alienation than Japan. Shot entirely in Tokyo and Kyoto, Sofia Coppola's gentle tale of late night, hotel-lobby bar musings is a cleverly perceptive vision of disparate people dropped into the screeching, orange-plastic world of Japan today.

In her second feature (The Virgin Suicides was her first) Coppola is content to tell a relatively simple story relatively simply. She doesn't overreach. Too often a director strives beyond a film's parameters, resulting in a dilution of dramatic effect and loss of focus. Here, thankfully, we are kept tight on the two lead characters.  Bob is a successful actor past his prime in town reluctantly to shoot an advertisement for a local distillery. Some of the filming of the ad is Murray at his world-weary best. Charlotte has accompanied her photographer hubby on a rock band shoot. With a lot of time on their hands the two initially bump around their respective hotel rooms before drifting into the lobby bar where their paths finally cross. Their mutual attraction is neither immediately obvious nor contrived. This story, or something like it, is more than likely happening every night in grand hotels all over the world.

What makes Lost In Translation special is its ability to draw us into liking the characters, care for them, will them to "get together" and follow them on their, at times, loopy nocturnal trips through Japan's insanely strange dance clubs, restaurants and bars (at times the film could be accused of being condescendingly Anglocentric). The premise is simple - a fish-out-of-water will gravitate to another fish-out-of-water - but alienation not only brings Bob and Charlotte together, it forces them to address the issues that have led them to be with each other when both are spoken for.

Johanssen plays detached whimsy and vulnerable beauty with rare aplomb. She is enigmatic and beautiful to watch. Like the best actors she becomes more watchable as the story develops. Murray gets better and better at playing the shifty-eyed, deadpan, what-am-I-doing-in-this-picture rogue. Here he adds dollops of fetching charm. He hasn't made too many career blunders and this might see him salute at the awards we all know as anything but academic. Photography swings between platinum-harsh interiors and kaleidoscopic commercial landscapes. Coppola's camera seems to know its way around town and her direction is sympathetic, boldly voyeuristic, yet never intrusive.

I was disarmed and charmed by Lost In Translation, a worthy contender for feel-good film of the season.

 

 

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