If you walk into this movie expecting to see a gut splitting comedy, or Bill Murray being his usual over the top self, chances are you will walk out of this film very disappointed. ‘Lost In Translation’ is a magnificent picture because it specifically goes out of its way to avoid the clichés and elements would usually expect to see when watching this kind of boy meets girl movie. What you will get when you go to see this movie is a moving piece of work that takes an interesting peek at what a shock to the system traveling and staying in another country can be when it’s so radically different from the homeland you’re used to dwelling within. ‘Lost In Translation’ is not only Oscar worthy but is one of the best films of 2003. It works because it does everything you least expect it to do, and is about as anti-Hollywood as it could get, making if fresh, interesting and well worth checking out. It’s also an enchanting character study and I for one give kudos to the Academy for recognizing this daring material for award consideration. It’s quite a work of art…
The plot while is simple is all right because it’s the shell of something that has many deep layers. It follows two specific characters that make such a journey to Japan for different reasons. One is there to make money in hard times, while the other is along for a ride while with a spouse who is there for work. Yet these two characters depend on one another to battle the loneliness and isolation that came with their decision to travel to a land that to them is strange and even a little intimidating. Lost in Translation is not an uplifting move nor is it weighed down the usual formula of the genre, but instead the film is dark, depressing, and above all… realistic.
Bill Murray is off the charts playing Bob Harris, actor whose popularity has hit hard times. He’s reduced to promoting whiskey for very large sums of money because work is scarce and he happens to still be popular overseas. Out to shoot a commercial in Tokyo, Harris has to deal with the strains of visiting a strange land along with strained relations at home with his wife. It was a performance that was clearly the best of Murray’s career. While there are hints of his comic self within the character, ‘Bob’ never really lets it loose because for most of the film because he’s not on the clock and is an actor who really isn’t as off the wall as the characters he portrays. Murray gives what I can only describe as a very disciplined performance as he did everything to remain in character. While Bob seemed to be the kind of guy who would be fun to hang around with, he still had the same flaws everyone else had to go along with the usual quibbles such as dealing with a strained marriage and a kid that doesn’t want to speak to you anymore. Harris has a lot of his plate, which at times makes the culture shock of being in Tokyo almost unbearable. Murray’s performance is top notch. It’s a far cry from many of his ‘usual’ performances, making it a treat to enjoy because we know the kind of humor and laughs he’s capable of, but the temptation to go out of character is repelled as Bob is all we see instead of Bill. We do see a sliver of Murray’s fun side, but those who have only seen his comedies will without a doubt be surprised by how serious and profound this performance really is.
Just as impressive is Scarlett Johansson in the role of Charlotte, the wife of a photographer who also happens to be in Japan on business. Charlotte is just as bored as Bob in the country, but even more since she has more time on her hands and uses her new friendship with the actor for the chance to interact with someone who seems to be a little more intellectual than the airheads her husband is used to hanging around with. Scarlett gives an impressive showing as the young and at times innocent and naive young woman who seems more like Bob’s best friend rather than a romantic companion. It’s a shame her role wasn’t nominated for an Oscar, it was certainly worthy of getting one. Her chemistry with Murray is fabulous, and even though there is a lot of sexual tension, I actually like the fact that Translation did its best to avoid most of the clichés that you’d usually expect to see in this type of storyline.
Much of the credit for this gem must be given to writer/director Sofia Coppola, in only her second major motion picture (her first being ‘The Virgin Suicides’). What I found most remarkable about the film was that any kind of ‘Hollywood’ influence is almost nonexistent, which is a very good thing. The camerawork and music are as helpful at setting the perfect mood to compliment the dialogue nicely. Not only was I impressed with Coppola’s direction, but I was impressed most with her script, which was smart and very witty… something that Murray fit into perfectly even though he kept his boyish charm to a bare minimum.
What I’m sure some people might not like about this movie might be its pace. I’ll be the first to admit there are some scenes that drag on just a bit, but are all right because they’re building towards something and didn’t seem to last that long. The film however requires your complete and constant attention, a chore that I am sure many movie goers might find daunting as many are used to being bombarded with effects and action ever three to five minutes.
And despite what many of critics of this film have said, this is not a racist movie and I suspect those who make this snipe have never been to Japan. Fact is, Japan is very much like the way you see it in this movie, and I found much of this movie moving because it reminded me of the recent trip I took to that part of the world last year. Coppola captured the essence of Japan and even Asia perfectly. Many don’t realize that these countries can be that intimidating, especially in the enormous cities such as Tokyo, Seoul and Hong Kong. These cities are so intimidating that westerners do spend a lot of their time isolated in their hotels, afraid to wander out and explore them alone, a feeling that was captured accurately in this film.
I’m officially jumping on the bandwagon in declaring ‘Lost in Translation’ as one of the best films of the year. It’s a deep, dark and very out of left field kind of film. It’s both funny and moving from start to finish and is carried but some very strong lead performances, which alone make this film worth seeing. It’s a great film that I think many will enjoy checking out, as I not only think it was deserving of every nomination it got this week, but I also think it deserves to win a few. Highly recommended to those looking for something besides cheesy suspense and action film.