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Lost in Translation (2003)

April 26, 2010

VERDICT:
9/10 Lipped Stockings

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…

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36 Comments leave one →
  1. April 26, 2010 5:28 am

    Dear Aiden,
    It’s been a real blast clicking on your website for the past few months. Unfortunately, owing to the post above I will not be able to return.
    All the best with the future and I hope everything works out for you.
    Yours sincerely,
    Ross McG

    • April 26, 2010 7:22 am

      hahaha, i forgot how much you hate this movie. well, it’s been real all the same. hope to see you back here some day.

      • April 26, 2010 1:00 pm

        Not to worry Aiden, McG’ll be back, he can’t help himself 🙂

        Btw, ‘Lip my stocking’ could very well be one of my fave scenes in this movie… though the director’s translation fiasco is probably the funniest! “Are you sure that’s all he said?” Man, I was on the floor laughing, but it’s also pretty devastating if you’re in his shoes!

        It is baffling how people who dislike this one REALLY hates it with a vengeance, but hey to each their own I guess. I really think it’s quite a poignant and fascinating movie, I also connect with that helplessness that Bob was feeling, and the unlikely bond between him and Scar-Jo’s character feels real to me. I like that Coppola didn’t go the cheap route and make them sleep with each other, that’d have been a turnoff for me.

    • April 26, 2010 11:03 am

      Ha ha ha. Afraid I’m with McG on this. I just plain old don’t understand why everyone totally digs Bill Murray, usually playing the most blank and uninteresting person in the world. I watched this and Broken Flowers back to back, was on suicide watch for 2 weeks!

      • April 26, 2010 11:10 am

        Broken Flowers I need to watch again, but that was total Jim Jarmusch strangeness on display from what I remember. Crazy how divided everyone is on this.

    • April 26, 2010 11:31 am

      Ross, you are a pretty smart guy, but you need movie anger management. 🙂

      • April 26, 2010 12:44 pm

        ‘Ross, you are a pretty smart guy’
        you should have just stopped typing after that, Heather

  2. April 26, 2010 7:09 am

    A lot of things work so well in this film, and I think there should be more mood pieces like this, enduring and true. Great review!

  3. Darren permalink
    April 26, 2010 7:56 am

    I actually really liked this film. Didn’t love it as much as most people seem to, but I have no ill feeling towards it – how could I hate a movie that gave us the second golden age of Murray?

    And Rushmore would count if more than ten people saw it.

  4. April 26, 2010 8:40 am

    totally agree with you about Japan – its the finest place in the world (or at least it would be if they didn’t treat animals like absolute shit).

    regarding Lost in Translation I’m on Ross McG’s side of the fence – the mystery of it’s popularity is second only to Shawshank’s and I found it as deep as the cheap shots it takes at the funny little foreigners. I much preferred The Virgin Suicides.

    …as for Murray? Well, I do like the guy but rarely has an actor got by on so little.

    • April 26, 2010 8:42 am

      Well, at least we have Japan. Wasn’t crazy about The Virgin Suicides, didn’t really know what to make of it. But I did love that Josh Hartnett’s character was named Trip Fontaine – badass name.

  5. Ryan permalink
    April 26, 2010 9:20 am

    Really remember hating this movie when I saw it. I guess I need to give it another chance.

  6. April 26, 2010 9:59 am

    I’m really weirded out by all the negative reactions. This movie is fantastic.

    Can’t believe Scarlett Johansson was only 19 in this.

    • April 26, 2010 10:18 am

      Hal, I’m right there with ya man. Glad you’re on the bandwagon.

  7. April 26, 2010 11:32 am

    This is one of my favorites of all time. I just connect so deeply with the characters, the soundtrack kicks ass, and has some of the most interesting writing of the decade. It’s a quiet movie that says a fucking lot.

  8. Marc permalink
    April 26, 2010 12:11 pm

    I have to completely echo Heather on her awesome comment. There are so many scenes and elements that work well and are just magic in this movie. Aiden, I agree the end sequence was just fantastic (though I’m not sold on the song as you are). To me the best music in this was the Air song “Alone in Kyoto”. To me it really captured the feel of the city helped sell the isolation of Chalotte’s city walking scenes.

    Just a stellar film although I can see why people don’t think it’s all that. Personally having been to Japan 3 times I fall in love with it more and more each time. I throw this movie on when I want to feel like I’m back there. Soffia really captured the feel of the country even though it all takes place in the city:P

    Aiden, since you dig it so much…here’s what I had to say about it, in case you’re interested:
    http://goseetalk.com/2009/09/09/off-the-shelf-lost-in-translation/

  9. April 26, 2010 12:47 pm

    aw crap.. ive come back to this site!
    damn you Aiden and your witty, well-written prose
    give Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes any more than a 3 though and i am definitely gone..
    – ‘You just lost yourself another customer!’
    – ‘What?
    – ‘I said you just lost yourself another customer!’
    – ‘I cant hear you.’
    – ‘You just lost yourself another customer!’
    – ‘Ill talk to ya later.’

    • April 26, 2010 1:03 pm

      haha, glad to have you back, man. Burton’s Apes ate shit, so rest easy there, sweet child.

  10. April 26, 2010 1:07 pm

    Burton’s Apes Ate Shit..
    i think thats the best review ive ever read of anything ever

  11. April 26, 2010 5:33 pm

    I love this film. So many great things about it.

    I’m with you on how it’s great that so much of this film doesn’t have them chatting away. Most of the best moments of the film are completely wordless.

    I wish more movies would find ways to trim down the dialogue because part of what makes this film so beautiful and what makes the relationship work is how it wordlessly expresses so much.

    And I think it can unequivocally be said that this is Bill Murray’s best performance, even though he is fantastic in Groundhog Day.

    • April 26, 2010 8:09 pm

      James, you’re a man after my own heart. My sentiments exactly. And there needs to be more people like us who appreciate how awesome Groundhog Day is. “Am I right or am I right or am I right? Right? Right? Right?”

  12. April 26, 2010 5:37 pm

    I just watched this movie over Spring Break for the first time. It’s just as good as you say it is. It’s such a beautiful film and I would have no problem watching it again and again.

    I agree with above comment about this being one of the best reviews I’ve read. Your last paragraph was money.

    • April 26, 2010 8:07 pm

      Thanks, man. Appreciate that and glad you dug the movie. Need to set these naysayers straight!

  13. April 26, 2010 6:32 pm

    Only one person I’ve ever met that doesn’t like this movie: my mom was sketched out by the May-June pseudo-romance. (Probably more February-October but hey, they’re all adults)

  14. April 26, 2010 7:37 pm

    CALLED IT!!

  15. April 28, 2010 3:32 am

    Hi Aiden,
    Love, love this film too. I think of all the films I have ever seen, I’ve watched this one the most. Like you, I think it’s because it’s set in Japan and I just love the whole atmosphere of the film. Okay, now I need to watch it again…:)

    • April 28, 2010 11:54 am

      Man, I’m feeling the same way too and I just saw it five days ago. Awesome.

  16. May 4, 2010 8:17 am

    I’ve recently discovered your movie blog while blog hopping, I’ve become a follower, and I look forward to revisiting.

    I would appreciate it, if you, and others, would become a “follower” and/or link on your site to my new movie + music blog, just to help get it going: http://moviesandsongs365.blogspot.com/
    We can help each other discover new movies that we might not otherwise have heard of ( :

    About ‘Lost in Translation’:
    I loved movie and the soundtrack , but realize some would be put off by the lack of story. I like the parallel between relationship and enviroment, Bill and Scarlett are lonely/alienated in the relationships and the foreign country they are in. Refreshing to see friendship between a man and woman. The title is also brilliant, I think.

  17. May 4, 2010 5:46 pm

    (Again – Catching up on things written while I’m hip-deep in non-fiction).

    First of all, love this film. A lot. Contact is currency when one travels alone so the timetable on how quickly friendships can manifest gets sped up immensely. This movie illustrates that like few others. And as has already been said many times through your post and these comments, much of what draws us into this movie is done without dialogue.

    Here’s the thing though…

    I remain completely unconvinced at Sophia Coppola’s talent as a writer or director. I loathed MARIE ANTOINETTE with a passion. I cannot believe the first film that was allowed to be shot inside of Versailles was that overendulgent love-letter to excess.

    VIRGIN SUICIDES ain’t bad, but it wasn’t her script. Add to the the fact that rumours are rampant that she did precious little to actually direct that film…with her DP actually tapped by many as what held that film together…and I’m only willing to give it part marks at best.

    That brings us to TRANSLATION. This is indeed a beautiful movie…but again, I’m unconvinced that she gets the credit. Take that exact same screenplay and put anyone else in the Bob Harris role…it fails. Without question. Coppola says she wrote the screenplay for Murray, and it’s Murray’s performance that makes the whole thing work…

    …Isn’t Murray the only person we should really be lauding for this film?

  18. May 6, 2010 3:57 pm

    I hadn’t heard that about the DP on Virgin Suicides, but I’d like to point out that while we all romanticize the director in a director’s chair with a bullhorn saying “Actors to your marks”, the job of the director is to delegate to departments. In films that I’ve shot, I frequently leave my DP in charge of coordinating and blocking one scene while I work with a different department (read: the girl that I roped into doing make-up) on something else or as I set up another scene somewhere else.

  19. Branden permalink
    May 24, 2010 6:21 pm

    I do not understand the hate and backlash of this movie. I loved Bill Murray. He was at his best in this movie. Scarlett show promise. What the hell happened to her? Sofia Coppola made a solid movie without the help of her famous father.

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