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Lost In Translation

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Lost In Translation

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray
Director: Sofia Coppola
Rated: R
RunTime: 105 Minutes
Release Date: October 2003
Genre: Drama


*Also starring: Anna Faris, Giovanni Ribisi



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Review by Harvey Karten
3½ stars out of 4

"Lost in Translation" is a delightfully nuanced look at a connection that's more than just friendship, a romance that falls short of consummation. As a bonus, photographer Lance Acord shows us a Tokyo (with a brief look at Kyoto for contrast) that, like the relationship between the two principal characters, has apparently left a strong memory on the film's director, Sofia Coppola ("The Virgin Suicides"). The ideal audience for "Lost in Translation" must be those tired of car chases and explosions while at the same time overly satiated with romances that always lead to hot sex and adolescent buddy movies accompanied by vulgarity.

You don't have to be a world traveler that is, one who has been to places abroad other than Cancun to know that being in a profoundly foreign culture can affect you in two disparate ways. On the one hand, away from your routine job and grocery shopping, you get a chance to think about how your life is going so far, make resolutions that you're bound to break, and return home the same person you've always been albeit with a few nice memories. On the other hand, immersed in a land where you find communicating with the locals so difficult that you can't order a decent meal in a restaurant or find your way back to the hotel, you may feel frustrated to the point of wanting to yell,"Get me out of here!" Whatever anxieties you've experienced at home will be more pronounced, yet at the same time the temporary rootlessness will open you to relationships that would probably never bloom in your own back yard.

Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) are frequently on their own during their days in Tokyo, experiencing a loneliness encourages them to open up to each other. Though each has a support group Bob, an American movie star who is in Japan to film a whiskey commercial, is sometimes surrounded by company hosts, while Charlotte, accompanying her frequently on-call photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi), has some Japanese contacts the two find trouble sleeping. Their chance meeting would not have amounted to anything back home. He, perhaps in his early fifties, is undergoing a mid-life crisis despite the big bucks he is accustomed to getting; she, in her twenties, has just graduated from a university with a degree in philosophy and has no idea what to do with her life. They meet and part--in the hotel's New York lounge, in restaurants, on the street--and meet and part again. When they return home to their separate lives, we feel sure they will have what travel agents promise but rarely deliver: memories to last a lifetime.

Thankfully using high speed film rather than digital video, lenser Lance Acord portrays the commercial areas of Tokyo as though a modern, clean Times Square. Neon is everywhere, people are wall to wall, virtually no Japanese speak English nor do tourists speak Japanese presenting a vacuum into which a pair of American strangers could get to know each other at broadband speed. With a few instances of probable improvisation by the immensely talented Bill Murray, "Lost in Translation," utilizing a script by the director with rapid editing by Sarah Flack, takes Charlotte and Bob on the rounds of this exotic, frenzied capital where they run into expected culture shock. Choosing from a restaurant with photographs of the dishes all of which look alike Bob and Charlotte consume one of the worst meals of their lives. On a talk show, a host on speed speaking rapidly and subverting an American stereotype that the Japanese are restrained with strangers, stuns Bob with clowning around that he can scarcely comprehend. Charlotte joins Bob at a strip club that could easily be the set of Paul Verhoeven's "Showgirls."

Bill Murray is as different from Bernie Mac as comics can get. He keeps his audience smiling if not roaring with laughter by his expressions rolling his eyes exquisitely, smoking a cigar while drinking whiskey and keeping his head down, talking to his California wife on a cell phone while soaking in the tub as though recuperating from a twelve-hour flight. By simply looking at the camera he can elicit broad grins from his fans in their theater seats. Scarlett Johansson is adept at offering at once a vulnerability and a wisdom beyond her years, making her ever- seeking character a splendid match for a Murray-in-crisis. By the conclusion of the story, you'll think of the strange and sometimes amazing relationships you've had during your life: The friendships that were superficial, the meaningful connections you've had that did not work out and left you heartbroken, the ties you've enjoyed which, like those of the principals in Coppola's movie were more than friendship, less than sexual. If that's not what mature movies are for, then what else?

Copyright 2003 Harvey Karten

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