Lost in Translation (2003)
The quintessential movie about being a stranger in a strange land.
Lost in Translation is about an aging movie star in an estranged marriage who gets flown over to Tokyo for a couple weeks to shoot a whiskey commercial. While there, he strikes up a friendship with a much younger gal who’s also in an estranged marriage and instead of wallowing in their own despair about being the only normal English-speaking folk in a country that’s the farthest thing from familiar, they decide to make the best of it while discovering what they want they out of life along the way.
This has been on my “need to re-watch” list for a long time now and after finally sitting down this past weekend and watching it again for the first time in years, it’s great to be reminded how much I really do love this thing. Part of it leads back to how much my love for Bill Murray has grown over the past seven years, but the fact of the matter is that this is just one of those rare movies.
That Sofia’s sure come a long way since The Godfather: Part III.
Well, since I already mentioned him and since I’m always chomping at the bit to make sure everyone on Earth is on the same page as me in this regard, let’s start this baby off with how Bob Harris may very well be the performance of Bill Murray’s career. As expected, Bill’s hilarious and it’s great to watch the extras in the background crack up at everything he says, but it’s not often you see someone play a character like they’re not even acting, like they’re just interacting with everyone as though there wasn’t a camera crew in the room. It’s essentially watching Bill Murray play Bill Murray and, shocker, it’s a role he was born to play.
And maybe I’m just playing favorites, but that Sean Penn robbed Bill of an Oscar he totally deserved back in ’03 and I really hope we someday get another performance like this out of the guy. For all his flaws, Bob’s a genuine, complicated and endearing individual and, boy howdy, can he sing a killer rendition of “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding“.
A super-young Scarlett Johansson is also good as Bob’s new friend, Charlotte. She might not make it seem as effortless as Bill, but she comes across as nice and normal instead of this week’s cover girl, and I dig that. One of the better performances she’s put out there, about on-par with Match Point.
But let me backpedal to Sofia Coppola because at least someone here got the Oscar they deserved. Sofia does a lot of things well and jam packs this movie with one memorable scene after another that’s set to the perfect song each and every time, but the best quality of her script is that it makes her characters hold back. So much of this movie is spent with the characters saying nothing at all and whenever there’s a dialogue to be had, it tends to speak volumes about the kind of people they are. I love that about this movie and it is such a breath of fresh air to come across a writer who appreciates how much you can say without saying anything at all.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – sometimes people just need to shut up.
It really is a great, complex script with a ton of raw dialogue about ugly truths and honest desires that a lot of movies tend to shy away from. Might not be the best pro-marriage movie out there, but that’s just the kind of movie this is. Take it or leave it, folks.
And having been to Japan a couple times and finding it to be the most incredible country outside of the U.S. I’ve ever been to, there’s an added appreciation to this movie for me that goes beyond all the choice jabs about L’s and R’s and how short everyone is. In a nutshell, being in Japan is like being on a different planet; the urban cities really do feel like a bustling sea of neon, the rural towns are a portrait of serenity and everyone you meet will always give you their business card. It’s hard to describe the attraction to Japan without experiencing it first-hand, but it’s truly something else and watching this movie again really made me want to go back.
And that last song by The Jesus and Mary Chain paired with the guided tour of the Tokyo cityscape is one of the best ending sequences of all time if you ask me. Like I said, perfect song choice.
I feel like I’ve had a tough time over the years meeting people who feel the same way about this movie as I do, but all the same, I really freakin’ love this movie. Lost in Translation is just a beautiful love letter to one of the most amazing countries in the world and a refreshingly truthful and believable meditation on the connections we make in life, despite how unusual they may be. The only bummer is that the pacing lulls a bit here and there, but for a movie about two Americans with time to burn in Japan, it works a lot more than it probably should.
And sorry for the long review. That Bill Murray…