Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 9/21/03 w/ Additional Edits
"Listen to the girl as she takes on half the world. Moving up and so alive. In her honey-dripping beehive, beehive, it's good, so good, it's so good, so good. Walking back to you is the hardest thing that I can do. For you, I'll be your plastic toy; I'll be your plastic toy, for you. Eating up the scum is the hardest thing for me to ".
-Just Like Honey by the Jesus & Mary Chain from Psychocandy
The lyrics above are a very good description on what Sofia Coppola's film Lost in Translation is all about. It's about two people who find themselves alone and neglected in a world that is foreign to them. Starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson, Lost in Translation is an evocative, romantic masterpiece that transcends all barriers of depth in acting, writing, and direction. Sofia Coppola brings in a film that takes the audience to an area they might have not been before and see the cultural differences between the worlds you live and the new world that that they're being introduced to. In the process, it's an unconventional romantic comedy-drama that is more about trying to identify yourself in the new world while looking at the old world from an eerie distance. What Lost in Translation succeeds in is finding an emotional chord through its actors, plot, and striking visuals.
50-year old Hollywood actor Bob Harris (Bill Murray) has just arrived to Tokyo to endorse Suntory Whiskey for $2 million. Yet, Bob's career isn't hot as it used to be as he arrives at the Hyatt Hilton Tokyo where he receives a fax from his wife that he had forgotten his son’s birthday. His sullen mood worsens as he's forced to listen to bad jazz renditions of songs like Scarborough Fair from a jazz chanteuse (Catherine Lambert), dealing with fans, and having trouble sleeping. In the same hotel, a young Yale graduate named Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is also having trouble sleeping while her photographer husband John (Giovanni Ribisi) is on assignment to do photos for a rock band. Charlotte somehow feels neglected in her 2-year marriage as she wanders around in Tokyo looking at temples. Charlotte suddenly feels like her marriage is falling apart as well as her identity after tearfully calling a friend in the U.S. about what's going on.
Bob and Charlotte for a few days would see each other in the bars or in an elevator but haven’t spoken as Charlotte is exploring the strange culture of Japan with its video games and pop culture references. Bob meanwhile, is shooting the whiskey commercial and finds himself in an awkward position where he has trouble figuring out what the Japanese director wants from him, which is more intensity. Bob also feels alone not just from the array of Japanese television but from the number of faxes from his wife on what shelves or carpet colors he wanted. Charlotte is also having trouble trying to find something she can relate to as her husband has been consumed with his job. Even as they meet a vapid Hollywood starlet named Kelly (Anna Farris) doesn't help matters for Charlotte.
Then one night, Bob and Charlotte finally talk in the hotel bar as they both couldn't sleep and talk about their own problems. They would meet again after Charlotte leaves a dinner conversation with John and Kelly where Bob asks if she would participate in something that would get them out of this funk they’re in. Charlotte says yes as the two explore Japan by themselves. In the day, Bob will do his promotional work for the whiskey including a hilarious photo shoot where he mimics the Rat Pack and Charlotte would explore Tokyo and the art of Japanese flowers. They meet again and later in the night, they explore the party scene of Tokyo where Charlotte meets an old college friend Charlie (Fumihiro Hayashi) who introduces the two to the rave scene, indie-pop records, and of course, karaoke. Charlie does the Sex Pistols' God Save The Queen and Bob does Nick Lowe's (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love, & Understanding?. Charlotte later does the Pretenders' Brass in Pockets and Bob responds with a moving rendition of Roxy Music's More Than This.
The night resulted in the two finally getting some sleep while Bob is forced to deal with strange, disconnected communication with his wife while Charlotte is feeling more neglected from John as he is away from business. Bob and Charlotte have lunch together where Charlotte reveals a bruise in her foot resulting from a bump with a small object a few days back. Bob accompanies to the hospital where he talks to an old person despite not understanding what he's saying. They later meet for another night with Charlie at a strip club as they begin to have conversations about their troubles lives in a moving scene of the two of them in bed talking about marriage. With the film progressing from then on, Charlotte and Bob do their day activities while wondering if the relationship they're having is meaningful in the short time they're having.
In her second full-length feature to date after making the 1999 acclaimed film The Virgin Suicides, Sofia Coppola has created something that is dreamlike but also eerie in its framing and tone. With cinematographer Lance Acord, Coppola captures the colorful, modern look of Tokyo that seems beautiful but at the same time, makes the audience feel very isolated in a lot of ways, particularly the characters of Bob and Charlotte. Coppola's original script is filled with wide-range of emotions along with some humor while in scenes with no dialogue, there's no need for her to write words as she makes the actors capture raw emotion through their performances. Even the sceneries of temples, landscapes, clubs, and arcades are filled with enigmatic beauty as the audience is transported into this new world that they're surrounded by. Though it seems to be a clash in cultures, it really opens the mind of the worlds many aren’t familiar to and Tokyo is a perfect setting with its wild look and people.
One noted factor to the greatness of the film is the use of its music. With cuts ranging from karaoke, jazz standards, Japanese pop, and dream-pop, the film exceeds the use of music the way Coppola had approached it with The Virgin Suicides. In Lost in Translation, the music moves and captures the mood of the film. With some of the original music from Brian Reitzell with Beck musician Roger Joseph Manning, Reitzell brings an eerie, cold mood to the culture of Japan along with the electronic music of Death in Vegas, Air, and Squarepusher. The real music star of the film is none other than My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields, who finally returns with new music in 12 years after the release of the 90s rock masterpiece Loveless. Shields brings a dreamy, melancholic tone to the music, including the song City Girl used in the film's opening shot of Johansson in pink underwear and in the flower scene for a dreamy, melodic instrumental called Ikebana. Even the classic MBV song Sometimes appears in the film and the Jesus & Mary Chain noise-pop masterpiece Just Like Honey that gives the film its emotional climax.
The supporting performances of Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Farris, and a slew of Japanese actors are all well utilized. Ribisi plays a character that loves his wife but he's also married to his work and has been consumed with the trappings of being around celebrities and all sorts of people stroking his ego while making himself neglectful towards Charlotte. While Ribisi's character is based on Coppola's now ex-husband Spike Jonze, Ribisi's performance isn't an exaggeration of Jonze. Anna Farris does a surprising performance as a brainless Hollywood starlet who is consumed with her own fame and believing that she is the greatest thing in Japan, while she does a hilarious, off-key rendition of Carly Simon's Nobody Does It Better. Even the Japanese cast is hilarious to watch from the commercial director (Yukata Tadokoro), the hooker, translators, TV talk show host Matthew Minami (Takashi Fuji) and all sorts of people including Fumihiro Hayashi as Charlie stand out on their own bringing out a sense of comedy while not purveying to the stereotype of the Japanese.
Then there's the two leading performances of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson that are both enigmatic, masterful, and deep in their respective roles and it's no doubt these two should be getting some awards. For Bill Murray, the character of Bob Harris is the best film role of his entire career. While he was hilarious in movies like Caddyshack, Meatballs, Ghostbusters 1 & 2, Scrooged, What About Bob? and Stripes along with more serious performances in Ed Wood, Rushmore, and Groundhog Day, Lost in Translation is his most defining performance as he not only brings out some quick-witted humor that is dry in some cases while he reveals his sense of vulnerability in the film including the poster of him sitting on his bed with his sad, droopy face.
Scarlett Johansson meanwhile, delivers a performance that exceeds all sorts of expectation wanted from a young actress. Though she's only 19 years old, Johansson brings in a mature, fragile performance as Charlotte that I don't think many actresses, including those around her age group could manage. She displays a beauty that transcends all sorts of barriers from the exterior to the more internal torture in her character. Johansson recently won the Upstream Best Actress prize from the Venice Film Festival for her performance and she truly deserved it. Just the way she made the camera look at her and to identify with the character is a true power to what it is to be a great actress. In comparison to early film roles like Manny & Lo, The Horse Whisperer, Ghost World, An American Rhapsody, and The Man Who Wasn't There, this is one of her best performance to date though she recently top that with Girl with a Pearl Earring with Colin Firth as the famous Vermeer painting.
The chemistry between Johansson and Murray are spellbinding as they channel their sadness to find some life around themselves in a foreign world. Even in their karaoke scenes, they bring in some depth into their roles while proving that they're not the best singers in the world. The age difference between the two is thrown out of the window as they play two lost souls trying to find meaning with their drab life. Even in the script's unconventional approach to a love story, the film doesn't give an answer on whether they should sleep together or not because it doesn’t matter. What matters is how these two individuals feel through real emotions and no one could capture those kinds of performances the way Murray and Johansson has done
***Updated Tidbits on the DVD from 2/5/04***
The DVD to Lost in Translation is featured in two versions. The Full-Screen and 1.85:1 Anamorphic Wide-Screen version. For those of you cinematic buffs who saw Lost in Translation multiple times (like I did where I saw the film 3 times in 2003 in the theaters), the Wide-Screen version is the one to own since it captures the film in an exhilarating form. With languages featuring French and Spanish subtitles plus DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound in English and Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound in French. No, the film doesn't have Japanese subtitles but at least now, we can hear what Kevin Shields was saying in his MBV song Sometimes and City Girl that has so many interpretations on what he said.
Aside from the scene selections and language features, the DVD also includes a great menu of Special Features. The only disappointment in the Special Features DVD and probably for good reason is audio commentary from Sofia Coppola (but due to her personal circumstances, it's understandable and there’s no audio commentary from the always reclusive Murray and the workaholic Johansson). Aside from the great trailer (and before the film, some great trailers of films from Focus Features), there are some great special features that include two documentary features, Coppola's video for Kevin Shields' City Girl, five deleted and extended scenes, and the full version of Bob Harris’ visit to the Matthew's Best Hit TV Show.
The video for City Girl includes some shots of the film based on the viewpoint of Charlotte as well as a few scenes that didn’t make into the film. Sofia Coppola, who only had shot three music videos, did an amazing job with the editing and her romantic use of Kevin Shields' new song. The feature for Matthew's Best Hit TV Show is downright hilarious as the audience gets to see the whole episode in its entirety. We get to see Bob Harris trying to talk to the boisterous Minami and we finally see what was revealed in the box that is downright disgusting but overly hilarious.
The five deleted and extended scenes can be played individually or as a whole. The first is a deleted scene of Bob Harris joining in the water aerobics club with some Japanese women as he splashes around and joins in for the fun, showing Murray's offbeat comedy antics. The second is a scene where Charlotte goes into a toyshop outside of Tokyo as she encounters two robot children as she tries to play with them but leave her displaying her sense of neglect with background music of In The Subway by Roger Joseph Manning Jr. and Brian Reitzell. The third is an extended press conference scene for Anna Faris’ Kelly where she talks about her action film Midnight Velocity and all of the Hollywood clichés that is played to the hilt, especially as Faris is playing a ditzy, Cameron Diaz-like character to the role. Faris isn't trying to be Diaz but she definitely brought some humor to the film's subtle tone. The fourth scene is a scene where Charlotte calls Bob the night after the karaoke party as she asks if he'll join her for lunch. The fifth and final scene is an extended scene of Harris' conversation with a Japanese elder that gets funnier because of the language barrier as they to learn each other's name.
The two documentary features include two different documentaries from Rome and Tokyo. The first is a 10-minute conversation with Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray in Rome, Italy in October of 2003 as they talk about the film where Murray says it's the best film he's ever done and it's his all-time favorite. Coppola and Murray thanked the film's crew for all the work that went through it including the actors and producers. The second is a 30-minute documentary on the making of the film as we see Sofia working on the film with the Japanese film crew. Also featured is Spike Jonze (who also shot the documentary) talking to Sofia about the film as we see the hospital scene, the worst lunch scene, Bob Harris' commercial scenes, and the Hyatt scenes being built with the Murray and Johansson talking and having some fun.
Overall, the DVD is something any hardcore fan of the film must have along with the film's soundtrack. The features are great; especially for film buffs that want to learn how movies are made and the other stuff are cool too. Hopefully, we'll get some audio commentary soon from Coppola and the actors in future editions and maybe, a book on the screenplay but it's likely that no will ever know what Harris whispered into Charlotte's ear. That's a moment only for the actors and its best if audiences never knew.
***End of DVD Tidbits Section***
Lost in Translation is hands-down, the best film of 2003. Though the comic-bio pic of American Splendor is a close second, Lost in Translation is just brilliant with its striking visuals, dreamy music, romantic script, and evocative performances of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. The film is just powerful in its approach and mood, as Sofia Coppola has finally established herself as a filmmaker. Gone forever is the miscast performance of The Godfather Part III and gone now is her being mentioned with father and legendary director Francis Ford Coppola. Now, Sofia is a filmmaker that everyone will have to wait for and it's obvious her next film will be widely anticipated. In the end, Lost in Translation is an enigmatic masterpiece that is filled with beauty and realness thanks in large part to Sofia Coppola’s direction and the performances of Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson.
Sofia Coppola Films: Lick the Star - The Virgin Suicides - Marie Antoinette - Somewhere - The Bling Ring - A Very Murray Christmas - The Beguiled (2017 film) - On the Rocks - Priscilla (2023 film)
Sofia Coppola Soundtracks: Air-The Virgin Suicides - The Virgin Suicides OST - Lost in Translation OST - Marie Antoinette OST - (The Bling Ring OST) - (Priscilla OST)
Sofia Coppola Essays: Sofia Coppola: The Videos and Ads 1993-2008 - LIT 5th Anniversary Essay - The Auteurs #1: Sofia Coppola - LiT: 10 Reasons - 10 Things I Want to See in a Criterion UHD 4K Blu-Ray for Lost in Translation
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