RED forum

ISSUE NO.
151 SEPTEMBER 25, 2003
 
 
  theReel
  Sofia Coppola Cinematically Translates Alienation and Hope
  By Jeremy Mathews
   
 

“Lost in Translation”
Focus Features
Written and directed by Sofia Coppola
Produced by Ross Katz and Sofia Coppola
Starring Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris, Yutaka Tadokoro, Catherine Lambert and Akiko Takeshita
Rated R

(out of four)

 
Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson play unlikely American companions in the foreign land of Tokyo.  

Japan’s culture doesn’t exactly mesh with that of the United States. Sure, we drive their cars and get along with them, but the hotel-greeting committees and game shows are a little strange to us. It isn’t the best place for people already feeling alienated from humanity to visit.

But stuck in this foreign land, two unlikely strangers find comfort in human contact. It might not sound very important, but “Lost in Translation” delivers an affecting story that avoids expectations in favor of something with much more truth.

The two characters are Bob and Charlotte, played by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. They meet in a Tokyo hotel amid personal dilemmas, unsure of their relationships and life choices, and spend a week bonding with each other.

Bob is a middle-aged Hollywood star who’s alone in the city for a week-long, $2 million film and photo job promoting a Japanese whiskey company. He spends his working time in a tired daze because he can’t sleep at night.

Murray’s performance is perfect. You can feel his sleepiness, regret over neglecting his family (his wife faxes him a note that he forgot his son’s birthday) and reserve over the whole advertising job. His comic timing is also dead-on, evidenced in one scene in which a TV-commercial director shouts long instructions at him and a soft-spoken translator delivers single English sentences. “Are you sure that’s all he said?” he asks with that beloved tone that he pulls off so well.

The much younger Charlotte stays in Tokyo with her husband of two years, John (Giovanni Ribisi). A workaholic photographer in town to shoot a band, John sleeps like a baby while Charlotte shares Bob’s sleeping problem. When John’s awake, he needs to hurry to work. Charlotte finds the entertainment-industry types with whom he associates shallow and she rarely has any time alone with him. She’s beginning to think she made a mistake by marrying him.

The two characters gradually find each other, instead of through the cute meetings of romance films. At first they see each other in an elevator and smile, then share space again at the hotel bar, where they exchange amused glances about the night singer while John laughs with his friends. Since neither of them can sleep, they see each other leaving and entering the pool and begin to become friends.

The relationship between Charlotte and Bob balances the sadness of their daily lives with moments of sweetness. It redeems their trips and provides a link between two generations, even if they can’t link with Japan’s cultural differences, which the film cleverly satirizes and compares with U.S. culture.

Murray and Johansson create an amazing friendship together. In one scene, Bob describes his longtime marriage and children to Charlotte, who asks, “Does it get easier?”

Sofia Coppola wrote and directed the film, her follow-up to “The Virgin Suicides,” and here confirms the promise shown in her debut. As stylish as she can be, much of this film’s virtue comes from a restraint reminiscent of the Japanese masters. If nothing else, the film’s mood strikes at the emotions. Lance Accord’s observational cinematography captures the Tokyo nightlife, while the hotel’s design is so interesting that the setting never becomes boring to look at.

The screenplay is equally restrained, letting the characters reveal themselves with subtle dialogue and quiet attempts at redemption.

The closing scene, with an inaudible whisper and an emotional release, creates one of the most palpable moments of human connection in recent cinema. The story’s ultimate success doesn’t generate from its knowledge of differences, but its knowledge that we can still come together.

jeremy@red-mag.com

 
     
  CoverStory  
   
     
  theBeat  
   
     
   
     
  theArts  
   
     
  You Don't Have to Sell Your Body to the Night to See Cyrano de Bergerac  
     
  U Theater Department Doesn't Wreck Oedipus  
     
  Beautiful Books Open as You Would Your Own Rib Cage  
     
  Lansky, Wilson, Harvey: Living Proof of a Technological Past, Present and Future  
     
  theReel  
   
     
   
     
   
     
   
     
  Oh, Crap! He's Gone! Harry Goz Passes Away at Age 71
 
     
  RED herring!  
   
     
     
 
 
 

 

       
 
   
 

RED Magazine is a publication of The Daily Utah Chronicle. RED is published every Thursday. For information on advertising, call 801-581-7041. To have your event considered for publication, write to jeremy@red-mag.com. Copyrighted material remains the property of the original owner.

Web Site Copyright 2003