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Lost in Translation

2003 comedy-drama film

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A Charming Lost and Found Experience

  • Jan 29, 2004
  • by
As I began to compose this brief commentary, I remembered that Sofia Coppola was cast as the infant being baptized during the final sequence of events in the first Godfather film (1972) which her father directed. She later appeared in Godfather Part III, a last minute and miscast substitute, reputedly for Winona Ryder. How different this film is from those films as well as The Conversation (1974) and Apocalypse Now/Redux (1979) which her father also directed.

With regard to Lost in Translation, she wrote the screenplay as well as directed it, evoking brilliant performances from Bill Murray (as Bob Harris) and Scarlett Johansson (as Charlotte). For me, the title suggests multiple dimensions of irony. Some are obviously related to Harris, familiar to those in Tokyo who recognize him but certainly adrift (if not totally lost) in a culture foreign to him in almost every possible way. Other ironies involve communication difficulties unrelated to fluency in language. For example, even after two years of marriage, Charlotte and John (Giovanni Ribisi) are -- to a significant extent -- strangers to each other as are Bob and his wife back in the United States to whom he has been married for quite some time. Moreover, much of the communication between Charlotte and Bob is also lost in translation, more the result (I think) of generational than linguistic differences. All this suggests an important point to me: It is difficult (if not impossible) for others to know who you are if you don't. It is also so important, moreover, to know who you aren't. Presumably Bob has been struggling with these issues, at least since his career began to evaporate. Both Bob and Charlotte are at or near a crossroad in their respective lives when they first meet. After several days together, their relationship arrives at another crossroad. Which way to go? Where is his life headed? And hers? Will they proceed together?

Here are two of several reasons why I admire this film so much. First, thanks to Coppola and her superb cast, it has exceptional charm. There are so many targets of opportunity for a cynical statement. However, to her great credit, she ignores them all. Although there are highly amusing (sometimes zany) moments along the way, to be sure, Coppola develops the characters of Bob and Charlotte with respect and affection but never with condescension. The second reason is that this film has great natural energy which Coppola juxtaposes with moments of intimacy, tenderness, reflection, and even poignancy. To achieve that, Coppola and Lance Acord blend as well as balance exterior shots of Tokyo at night (which resembles Las Vegas) with exterior shots of religious shrines during the day, thereby complementing Charlotte and Bob's diverse moods as they explore at least some of the country in which they feel lost.

Given what she achieves in this film, I am eager to see how Coppola's career develops in years to come. My hunch (only a hunch) is that her talents are more diverse than those of her father (e.g. slapstick comedy) and thus the nature and extent of opportunities which await her are greater than those available to him after the first Godfather film (1972). He must be a very proud father....and should be.

FYI: The special features of the DVD version include a conversation with Coppola and Murray, a behind-the-scenes featurette which includes exclusive footage shot by the filmmakers ("Lost on Location"), several deleted scenes, and an extended version of the Japanese TV show, "Matthew's Best Hit TV."

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More Lost in Translation reviews
review by . May 28, 2011
posted in Movie Hype
**** out of ****     Bob is an aging movie star; fighting depression and anxiety in the later years of his life, lonely and lacking friendship outside of his home-land, and on a business trip in Tokyo, Japan. We never see Bob when he's at home; we only see him arrive, and thrive, in the city. Bob goes throughout the day dealing with photo-shoots as well as the Japanese fan-base for his films. Bob does not speak Japanese; and has much trouble understanding these nigh-alien beings …
Quick Tip by . July 27, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Perfectly written and acted. I think we all knew the guy who lead in Meatballs could give an emotional performence like that.
Quick Tip by . July 14, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Not really a great movie, but thank you Sofia for introducing us to Scarlett.
Quick Tip by . July 12, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
Strong performances by the leads in this film. Was a bit slow moving for me, though.
review by . August 24, 2009
posted in Movie Hype
There are a few things that are quite amusing about Lost in Translation.  When it came out in 2003, it slowly became a hit among critics and established a cult following.  At first it's hard to see just what the big deal is.  It's a grand movie but it's a very slow paced film, to the point that it seems to really turn some off.  Along those lines others may find it a bit too talkative for their taste.  It's a cult classic, however.  And that means you'll either really …
Quick Tip by . August 21, 2009
Probably the only movie that I enjoy SJ in.
review by . November 26, 2007
The title says it all. I read multiple reviews of Lost in Translation and hesitated...do I want to invest an hour and a half of my life into this film?      Finally, I had a quiet few moments, an opportunity presented itself and I decided to give it a shot.      I can understand the mixed reviews. If you are expecting a movie that ties up any sort of loose ends or follows a plot, you aren't going to like it. If you are expecting Bill Murray to be hilarious, …
review by . January 26, 2007
The subject of two lonely people, one man, one woman, having a chance encounter that blossoms into something more, is quite a common one for movies, books and TV shows. This half-comedic take on it adds the twist of a foreign setting, Tokyo, Japan. The man is Bob, an aging TV star flown into Japan to shoot a drink commercial. The woman is Charlotte, a newlywed tagging along with her husband. Charlotte and Bob meet each other by accident in a bar, and form a friendship while meandering thru the daylife …
review by . December 10, 2006
Pros: Intelligent, well-written, smartly acted and directed.     Cons: A little slow at times.     The Bottom Line: Lost in Translation is a smart movie that begs the viewer to pay attention to the subtle.     Plot Details: This opinion reveals minor details about the movie''s plot. Loneliness is one of the most palpable of all human emotions. It can be a dull ache beating in the center of your heart, a restlessness in the pit of your soul; …
review by . December 04, 2005
This is interesting, I'm sure those who are put off by traditional Hollywood productions, which do get old, will love this. I might be crude but I found it a bit too subtle.  Chatlotte, played by Scarlett Johansson was a charming character, someone you wish you could be best friends with, but she still looks the 19 years old girl she is. She does not look like the 25 year old married woman she plays.  During the whole movie all you can think about is, will Bill Murray and Johansson …
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Robert Morris ()
Ranked #168
Professionally, I am an independent management consultant who specializes in accelerated executive development and breakthrough high-impact organizational performance. I also review mostly business books … more
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Like a good dream, Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation envelops you with an aura of fantastic light, moody sound, head-turning love, and a feeling of déjà vu, even though you've probably never been to this neon-fused version of Tokyo. Certainly Bob Harris has not. The 50-ish actor has signed on for big money shooting whiskey ads instead of doing something good for his career or his long-distance family. Jetlagged, helplessly lost with his Japanese-speaking director, and out of sync with the metropolis, Harris (Bill Murray, never better) befriends the married but lovelorn 25-year-old Charlotte (played with heaps of poise by 18-year-old Scarlett Johansson). Even before her photographer husband all but abandons her, she is adrift like Harris but in a total entrapment of youth. How Charlotte and Bill discover they are soul mates will be cherished for years to come. Written and directed by Coppola (The Virgin Suicides), the film is far more atmospheric than plot-driven: we whiz through Tokyo parties, karaoke bars, and odd nightlife, always ending up in the impossibly posh hotel where the two are staying. The wisps of bittersweet loneliness of Bill and Charlotte are handled smartly and romantically, but unlike modern studio films, this isn't a May-November fling film. Surely and steadily, the film ends on a much-talked-about grace note, which may burn some, yet awards film lovers who "always had Paris" with another cinematic ...
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Director: Sofia Coppola
Release Date: October 3, 2003, September 12, 2003
MPAA Rating: R
Screen Writer: Sofia Coppola
Runtime: 1hr 42min
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