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Lost in Translation

2003 comedy-drama film

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Getting Lost Can Be A Good Thing

  • Aug 24, 2009
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 like it or really hate it.  It's a very different, very original film in and of itself.

Lost in Translation was written and directed by Sofia Coppola.  Most people know her from directing The Virgin Suicides (among other things).  There's something quite unique and interesting about what she does here. In some ways it’s quite different from what you'd expect from, well, any film.

In particular, Lost in Translation focuses on two particular characters.  The first is Charlotte, played by Scarlet Johanson.  She's the young wife of a celebrity photographer who happens to be in Japan for a photo shoot.  The second character is Bob Harris, a middle aged man who is in Japan to shoot a commercial for Suntory Whiskey.  At one point the two meet in a bar, and between them an unusual friendship occurs.  Together the two explore Japan and have a fun adventure.  But we also discover the difference between the two and the similarities.  Bob Harris is a middle-aged man, who has been married for a long time, but has a disconnect with his wife.  Charlotte is newly married but has a disconnect with her husband.  It is because of this similarity that the two become friends.  There's a sort of irony about it too.  If Bob Harris is in a midlife crisis then what kind of crisis is Charlotte in, exactly?

As you might expect, it blossoms into something so much more than friendship.  Yet in all instances, the film doesn't take things too far.  This is a movie that's mostly about friendship and about two characters who are rather confused in Japan.  There are huge thematic plays on getting lost.  Our characters experience loneliness and alienation but also experience companionship in getting lost together.  The film probably takes place in Japan partially for this reason.  It's an unfamiliar setting to both characters, and the two don't exactly understand the language.  So not only do they feel disconnected from their respective spouses, but they're also in a country they both hardly understand at all.  They're both lost in several ways.  At the center, however, is mostly this friendship between the two characters.  So no, you won't see anything explicit... or even that romantic for that matter.  They both do eventually have something deeper, and there is romantic tension, but through it all it's mostly about companionship.  That's not to say there are no sweet moments or moments that aren't exclusively human.  There are, on both ends.  This is particularly what some may not exactly enjoy about Lost in Translation.  Aside from the city of Japan there's not a whole lot that's visually stimulating about Lost in Translation.  In fact, I've known people who are completely bored with the film.  This is straight drama, but it's also because the movie is very slow paced.  It's only an hour and forty five minutes, but it can feel a little lengthy.  The pace is actually quite understandable at least, but it's definitely not going to suit everyone.  In fact, it may even take more than one viewing to understand the point of the film and its significance.  The first time viewing sometimes it just doesn't come across.  You may have to dig.  And dig deep.  But in the end the film does stand tall in many ways.

If anything, however, the pacing really does sink in when you realize we go through many drawn out scenes, some of which don't really have much of any dialog at all.  Some of these moments come off as though they aren't needed, and indeed, some of them aren't.  But in some ways it's needed to be sure to enforce some of its themes.  If we're watching some of these scenes and feeling awkward like some of the characters are in this film, then we're being absorbed into the theme of being lost ourselves.

Bill Murray is often cited as doing some of the best acting he's ever done here.  This is hard to understand if you don't know Bill Murray's past.  For Murray the tone of the performance is very different from what he's actually done.  It's much more toned down.  As such it's a very different style for Murray.  It's amusing to watch.  It's more amusing if you're a Bill Murray fan.  Other actors and actresses do a good job, but none do quite as well as Murray does here.

If there was any one complaint about this film, it would be that it's been branded a comedy.  If that's so, I must’ve missed it.  It's a fantastic film, but funny isn't one of the words I'd use to describe the film.  In fact, as I watched I might've chuckled at one or two moments, but if I did... I can't rightfully remember at which moments I did so.  I remember the film for other reasons, none of which has to do with its so called "comedic" nature.  There were some obvious jokes that I caught wind of, but I hardly found them funny.  So Lost in Translation is good, but it's memorable for being a neat observation of human nature and being as thematically ambitious as it is.  

The movie isn't for everyone, though.  Not everyone likes that subtle approach.  It's biggest, most important moment is quite a big one.  It comes at the very end.  I won't spoil it for those who haven't seen it.  But it's a highly emotional moment that fits into the film as a whole.  What I'm getting at is that if you're the type who goes for explosions and the like... Lost in Translation will have you bored stiff.  More than that, it just has this vibe that it's something different.  It really is a movie in a league of its own.  As a result it not only takes multiple viewings to really grasp, but a lot of patience as well.  This isn't for everyone.  Sofia Coppola seems quite aware of this.  Because of its approach and its style some may find it just all out boring.  That doesn't separate it from being interesting and doing all these things well.  It's a good story overall, it just isn't all that flashy. 

If you can muster it, and you can settle for a little through provocation and themes, then Lost in Translation will provide that for you and more.  This is what makes the film amusing as a whole, and why it manages to stand tall for what it is.  A lot of people watch Lost in Translation and come out not exactly knowing what it was they were supposed to get from it... or even what it was about.  As I said, it might take multiple views but its essence does come out.

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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.
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 …
review by . May 06, 2004
I am not a professional critic, but wow... I have never disagreed more about a film that has received so much acclaim. Bill Murray does give a stellar performance (the reason for making it to two stars instead of just one), but the movie needs something that resembles a plot.From what I was able to decipher, this is a movie that shows how two totally different people can be brought together when both are on the "outside" looking in (Such as being in Japan for a few weeks) . This is not a plot... …
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Sean A. Rhodes ()
Ranked #6
I'm a more analytical person. I believe that the purpose of the review is not for me to give you my opinion but for me to give you an analysis and help you decide if you want to get it. If you reading … more
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About this movie


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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