In a recent conversation with a friend, he claimed that it is much easier to make fun of things than it is to compliment them; I couldn’t help but agree. There are a million easy ways to call a movie crap, but it takes a little more thought and time to rightfully capture the inherent goodness of a film. Lucky for me, most movies are pretty terrible with plenty of bad jokes, sub par acting and enough plotless stories to fulfill any cynical reviewer’s dreams. Occasionally, though, a movie comes along that can’t possibly be ignored. “Lost In Translation” is that movie. With that being said, Artsweek gulps and accepts this might be a tough review to write.
In her second full-length feature, Sofia Coppola, daughter of famed director Francis Ford Coppola, takes on the roles of writer, director and co-producer. The result of this multi-tasking is some of the most lifelike characters and beautiful scenery seen in movies of late. Yet, not all of the credit can be given to Coppola, as it’s only fair to note that Bill Murray gives his best performance to date.
Coppola’s cinamatographic style is understated, focusing on the ordinary and not distracted by glitzy effects or snazzy graphics. Mostly, the camera creeps slowly, watching every move from afar, without melodramatic zooms or dizzying pans. This quiet directorial style blends well with the narrative speed of the movie, creating one cohesive work.
The film is set in the urban wonderland of Tokyo, filled with innumerable skyscrapers, pedestrians and blinking lights, which all serve to offset the quiet storyline of the film. For the main characters in the film (both Americans), the city of Tokyo is a world vastly different from their own. The customs, fashion, language, entertainment and attractions are foreign and almost inaccessible to them. In this environment, those who only share a common language can become quick friends while comparing experiences with too-short shower heads and unidentifiable menu items.
Bob (Bill Murray), an aging actor, travels to Tokyo to cash in on a $2 million Santori Whiskey ad campaign as his popularity wanes in America. All alone in the trendy Park Hyatt Hotel, depressed by language barriers, a melancholy Bob spends most of his time on a bar stool, slowly sipping his own glass of Santori whiskey. A few days after his arrival, he meets Charlotte (Scarlet Johansson) who is stuck in the same hotel with her husband, John (Giovanni Ribisi), who is a neglectful photographer, too busy snapping photos of celebrities to spend time with his young wife. Having been left to fend for herself, Charlotte looks to Bob for a little company, if not direction in life. The pair quickly become close friends, navigating the city after dark, eating unsatisfying meals, singing karaoke and drinking copiously at the hotel bar when they can’t sleep. Their relationship fills a void in both of their lives, exposing each of them to something new and satisfying.
The most truthful aspect of the film is the way that the characters interact with one another, foregoing the typical blatant sexuality expressed in your average blockbuster. Instead, Coppola has her characters exude attraction, romance and closeness all without being adulterous, grotesque or excessive. Their average encounter involves lying on a hotel bed next to one another staring at the ceiling and chatting about marriage and a lack of direction in life. Coppola is able to extract extraordinary significance from these small moments and instill more emotion than pages of dialogue could have attempted to.
Not often does a movie come along that mimics life so perfectly; not slapstick, not violent, not weepy, but a little slow, a little happy, a little funny and a little bit heartbreaking. “Lost in Translation” is all about being dislocated in a sea of city lights and unfamiliar faces but being able to find someone or something that just makes sense. And sometimes, when in the midst of a bad day, a glowing movie like “Lost in Translation” may be all you need to find a little direction when you need it most.