By Mark Sells | September 16, 2003

I confess. I used to tsk every time I saw Sofia Coppola’s name in periodicals. I’d even start resenting her if the articles were in reference to her filmmaking endeavors. A proper anti-fan would probably boycott every audiovisual product associated with her. I didn’t. I watched The Virgin Suicides (1999), mainly for Kirsten Dunst, but I still more or less enjoyed it. When I first saw previews for Sofia’s newest film “Lost in Translation,” I wanted to throw my hands up in discomfort. I even considered skipping out on the special screening, to which I had a pass. I decided to go because I didn’t have anything else to do with my Monday evening (and I didn’t have to pay).
“Lost in Translation” is about the unexpected friendship that can develop between two strangers who are in a certain place at a certain time. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is an American actor shooting a whiskey commercial in Tokyo. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) tags along with her photographer husband John (Giovanni Ribisi) who is in Tokyo on business. As two insomniacs who’d rather be somewhere else, Bob and Charlotte seek each other’s company to make the best of their stay in Japan’s capital city.
In addition to co-producing the film, Sofia also wrote the screenplay. The script no doubt went through a number of drafts between the stages of conception and production, but the final version translates beautifully to screen. Sofia lets the images do the talking and she incorporates an everyday sense of humor. There isn’t very much dialogue in the film, which is fantastic because everything that is said is more meaningful (including Charlotte’s keen observation that every girl has a photography phase). “Lost in Translation” presents an honest look at two people in an unfamiliar city. Initially, Bob and Charlotte are just trying to acquaint themselves with Japanese leisure and linguistic cultures (the letter “r” is pronounced like an “l”). Their ultimate goal, however, is to find their place in their respective lives.
From the casting choices to the soul-soothing musical score to glimpses into Japanese visual culture, it’s obvious that Sofia pays careful attention that each element of the film stands strong alone, but can also contribute to the whole. Lance Acord, the cinematographer, shoots Tokyo as though he were a young child who is completely mesmerized by bright lights and seas of people walking on city streets. By the time the film was half over, I was ready to catch the next flight to Japan. Until travel arrangements can be made, though, I’ll just watch “Lost in Translation” again. So what if Sofia is the daughter of a very well known and respected director, she isn’t playing around. Sofia knows how to command the director’s chair.

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  1. highlyadjective says:

    I’m not one to identify with characters too much, but I did with both Bob and Charlotte in this film. Such a wonderful introduction to Scarlett Johansson, too (no, not her first, but my first of hers). Beautiful, wise, honest movie.

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