Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Lost In Translation (2003)

I hadn't seen Lost in Translation since I was about 16 or 17, when it depressed me to no end and I was in a funk for the rest of the day fueled by sad songs from Iron & Wine. Sheesh, high school, am I right? I've been wanting to revisit it for a while now and had a lovely late-night viewing last week in honor of the Coppola/Peirce LAMB Blogathon. The film follows well-educated but directionless Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), staying in Tokyo while her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) works on an extended shoot.

The story alternates between her and aging actor Bob Harris (Bill Murray), staying at the same hotel to work on a promotional campaign for whiskey. The two bond over their shared loneliness and insomnia, developing a close relationship during their short time together. Bob is stuck in a loveless marriage with two children while Charlotte is beginning to feel trapped and ignored in her own two-year marriage. Their own unstated romance is explored with subtlety and silence.

This is a film characterized by an understated beauty and quiet sadness that linger after the credits roll. So much is communicated with so little explanatory dialogue, with Coppola employing a range of interesting visuals and reserved emotional cues. She captures Tokyo as a bright and colorful but somewhat gritty city, and pinpoints the acute loneliness that expatriates may feel amidst a foreign culture. Her script is quite smart and realistic, with moments of very sweet humor peppering the otherwise pensive, almost minimalistic atmosphere.

Like all of her films so far, Lost in Translation is a movie about well-off white people with first world Problems, and while that's a theme that is bound to get old, she just handles it so well here that I can't really complain (considering that I myself am a white person with first world Problems). The central characters are complex and relatable for me, especially Charlotte. Johansson gives an effortlessly likable and honest performance that appropriately identifies the isolation and uncertainty that can attach themselves to long-term relationships. And I like that she's fairly toned-down and unglamorous in her appearance (though still smoking-hot, of course). Murray is notably self-effacing and adorable in his performance, and treats the old mid-life crisis thing with equal parts comedy and depression.

I think it's fair to say that this movie sticks with you. The understated and insightful script, gorgeously saturated visuals, and ambiguous ending left me thoughtful and disconnected after viewing, but luckily with slightly less depressing effects than my 16-year-old self experienced. It's just a beautiful film in every sense of the word.



  1. Great review, I think you summed it up perfectly. You're on a roll here with movies I think are awesome and my friends think are dull as dirt. The "lip your stockings?" bit will always be my favorite

  2. I absolutely adore this movie. I tried to watch it on TV a fair few years back, and just couldn't get into it and found it too slow, so I wrongly labelled it as "a movie consisting of nothing." Then I rewatched it last summer and just got it and was captivated, and it's not a firm favourite. Great review.

  3. i though this movie was a bit overrated, but the story was beautiful

  4. Perhaps I'm bias because I have a love affair with every Sofia Coppola, but this movie is beautiful and brilliant.

  5. Yeah, you've captured the mood of the movie here really well.

    I thunk the whiskey that Bob Harris was advertising was the same one that Kurosawa used to advertise on his whiskey adverts?

    I'll have to check.

    Good review!

  6. Good review, I agree with most of it.

    I read on another movie blog that it's that rare indie, which ought to be seen on the big screen, due to atmosphere, which is also created by a great shoe gaze soundtrack of sorts.

  7. SugaryCynic: Ha yeah that scene is so weird!

    Liam: Glad you gave it a second chance! I could see being turned off by it initially if you're not in the right mood.

    Candice: This is the kind of movie I'd usually think was overrated, but something about it just really charmed me.

    Jaclyn: Man who doesn't want a love affair with Sofia Coppola? I'm really looking forward to her next film!

    Nuts4r2: Oh I don't know about the Kurosawa whiskey thing but it's possible!

    moviesandsongs: That's a good point- it's really so visually arresting and that's often not true for smaller movies. And yeah I dig the soundtrack!

  8. I would like to think yours was not just the response of an overly emotional teenager. I went to see this movie the day after my best friend got married and sobbed my way through it, particularly the part where Charlotte calls her friend and talks about how uncertain she is about who she is and what she's doing with her life (as I remember it; it's been a long time since I've seen this one). It certainly struck a chord for me, and I was well into my twenties at the time. Nice to read a review that speaks more to the melancholy aspects of the movie. While I've seen the movie since and wondered how I could not have seen more of the humor in the story, I seem to recall that when it came out, reviewers really played up the comedy, which I think undermines all the other things that are going on in it. Thank you.

  9. Susannah: Thanks for lending my over-emotional response such validity! I know it's often pegged as more of a comedy but for me that's secondary to the dramatic atmosphere of loneliness and uncertainty. I know which scene you're talking about when Charlotte talks on the phone- she is worried that she went to a Shinto shrine and "didn't feel anything", but her friend can't talk for long and instead Charlotte hangs up and just sits there and cries for a few minutes. It's a really moving scene.

  10. I love, love, love this film. I've probably seen it about 20 times. (I know). But, what can I say, it's such a beautiful film and has a great script:)

  11. I remember seeing this for the first time and wanting to head right back into the theatre to see it again. Movies very rarely have that effect on me. It's so good at capturing loneliness, injecting it with just enough bittersweet sensitivity for warmth. Perfect soundtrack too. I can picture the last frames fading as the Jesus and Mary Chain play them out.