Off the Shelf…’Lost In Translation’

Man, I don’t think I could ever say enough good things about this movie. Lost In Translation is a borderline perfect movie and I don’t think enough credit can be given to Sofia Coppola for crafting this absolutely beautiful modern classic. I hadn’t expected to see this back in 2003 as it was making the rounds at some smaller, more independent theaters. A good friend of mine told me about the very positive buzz it was getting so I took a chance on it and was sooo glad I did. There are so many reasons why I absolutely LOVE this movie and it is one of my all time favorites. While very different movies, this comes in very close to Casablanca (which is my all time favorite) and that says a lot.

What I think first and foremost makes this wonderful film work is how real the story line feels. Lost in Translation focuses on the two main characters being so far removed from anything they know as they’re pretty much dumped in the heart of Japan trying to fend for themselves. With nothing more than very simple but heartfelt dialogue, some great music selections (among them, Air’s Alone In Kyoto), and the quasi-cold visuals of metropolitan Tokyo (the film’s undeniable and unsung third character) this film achieved emotional volumes the likes I have rarely seen on film. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a famous actor whose career is on its last legs so he is doing commercials and advertisements in Japan to keep working. Charlotte is a recently married woman and is in Japan as latchkey tag along on husband’s photo shoots.

The estrangement that both Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson experience is compelling and further the solace they find in one another helps their developing, albeit odd, friendship. The performances have such a subtle depth and richness that it comes across as comfortable and endearing. Moreover it allows you to feel a veritable closeness as the events of the story play out. I am not sure if it was the cuteness of a still unknown Scarlett Johansson or the surprisingly restrained comedy of Bill Murray that really sold the movie but I suspect it was alchemy of the the unlikely casting in both actors parts. The phrase “less is more“, I think, perfectly captures the acting in this film and helped sell that realism mentioned above. With its independent, almost documentary-like feel (but sans the shaky footage), this film is saturated in a ‘real-time’ platonic intimacy with the characters on screen that, when it was over, you really feel as if you’ve grown with Charlotte’s and Bob and welcomed their new take on life.

Maybe I’m incredibly biased but the main reason I love this film is that I have actually been to Japan. I’ve visited 3 times, all to visit my long time best friend and G-S-T co-editor Rob. Not surprisingly it’s my favorite country to visit so far. Having been to Tokyo, walked that huge intersection in Shibuya (and actually laid down in the middle of it), rode the subways and the shinkansen (bullet train), sang at all night karaoke bars, ate kaiten zushi (conveyor belt sushi), went to an onsen (hot spring), etc. I’ve about got the tourist thing covered and the movie plays out like a virtual visitors guid for those yet to go there. In fact the locations, sights, and sounds in the movie feet like a digital photo album for the experiences I had. Every time I watch this movie, I feel as if I’m right back in Tokyo and it’s like a free vacation without the 13 hour flight…or fright:)   So for me, I very much enjoy this film in a personal way in addition to its entertaining value.

While Lost In Translation isn’t every film fan’s cup of (green) tea I adore this movie. In regards to my tastes in film, my loving this movie is a bit of a contradiction to the films I normally gravitate to (read: I’m not an ‘indie’ guy). Despite the friendship developing between Bob and Charlotte, Lost In Translation it is sort of a love story and I enjoy that element (well it really is the element but I digress) of the story more than anything in the film.  Now being a guy, ‘love stories’ are also not the types of movies I normally go right out and see, let alone attempt writing a positive review about, but I guess everyone can relate to at least one film that sneaks through the invisible walls of their so called film “comfort zones”, right?  Well for me, this is that one (as well as The Notebook and 500 Days of Summer actually).

G-S-T RULING:

Whenever I sit down to watch this I know (sadly) that Bob and Charlotte will never end up together and instead will go back to their normal lives. But its still a bittersweet nearly happy ending. Individually more than together they’ve grown, just a bit, in ways they wouldn’t have expected and while others may disagree I think it’s pretty satisfying. Sure their duration in Japan and the friendship they have established was fleeting from day one but to use the phrase, “any port in a storm” would be insulting to the film’s premise. In this fish-out-of-water story the only thing the two characters have in common is that they really are “lost in translation”.

So it is that commonality that causes them to bond in the first place. And every time I watch this fantastic movie, I enjoy the beautiful exchange between characters and how, despite Bob and Charlotte’s prolonged cultural isolation, they really become each others’ rock. In the end, even though they will never be anything more than a friend to each other, that “inaudible whisper” at the end is an extremely classy and mysterious way to end the movie, making the entire trip seem like a dream that the viewer can interpret however they want to. I may be making to much of it, but God, I just love this movie…