“Lost in Translation”
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
(out of four)
Murray and Scarlett Johansson play unlikely American companions
in the foreign land of Tokyo.
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
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
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
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.