Lost In Translation is the story of Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), two Americans visiting Tokyo. Bob is a fading movie star in town to shoot a whiskey commercial, while Charlotte is a young woman tagging along with her workaholic photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi).
Unable to sleep one night, Bob and Charlotte cross paths in the bar of the hotel the two are staying in. This chance meeting evolves into a surprising friendship as Charlotte and Bob venture through Tokyo, having unique and often humourous encounters with its citizens, eventually discovering a new confidence in life’s promise.
Remember back in 1990, when film fans around the world were laying most of the blame on Sofia Coppola for The Godfather Part III? Well, it has been said that time heals all wounds and while a near decade and a half haven’t helped that movie much, it has helped transform the young Ms. Coppola from being a non-actress into a very promising writer and director.
Lost In Translation is Ms. Coppola’s winning follow up to her promising debut directorial/writing effort, 2000’s The Virgin Suicides. Her screenplay, based on personal experiences, is a smart, nicely nuanced mix of character study, loving look at a foreign culture and its people and a carefully structured, bittersweet May/December romance that won’t make you cringe in disgust.
It’s a lot of material to balance and make work in the span of 100 minutes, but Coppola is more than up for the task. With the help of her two incredible leads, her delicate handling of the material in the end proves to be every bit as impressive as her father Francis’ was at the beginning of his career.
Bill Murray has always been the most talented performer to emerge from TV’s Saturday Night Live. The performance he turns in here confirms that, and is parallel in excellence to his remarkable work in Rushmore. He’s both hysterically funny (after watching this, you will never listen to Roxy Music’s More Than This in the same way) and touching. Academy voters displayed their ignorance by not giving Murray a nomination for his work in either Rushmore or Groundhog Day – here’s hoping that the third time, which is his finest hour on film yet, won’t suffer the same fate.
Johansson, known mostly so far for her strong supporting roles in The Horse Whisperer and Ghost World, steps into the big leagues with her fine turn as Charlotte. Her performance is one of quiet observation that speaks volumes and shows that this relative newcomer to the movie scene has more than what it takes to hold her own against such veteran stars as Murray. The chemistry between the two is perfect and believable, which helps us buy into the blossoming relationship without hesitation.
On occasion, I referred to Lost In Translation as Brief Encounter in Japan, a nod to the 1945 David Lean film. Some may see this as a knock against Translation, but I find it to be an apt reference – as the time Bob and Charlotte spend together is far too epigrammatic, the time the viewer spends in the presence of this wonderful movie is even more brief. Go, sit back and get “Lost” in one of the best films of the year.