Review: Lost in Translation
Director: Sofia Coppola
By Rhys Tarling
This is the way Lost in Translation ends – not with a sappy declaration of love atop a world famous monument, but a private whisper, from one lost soul to another, on a nameless Tokyo street. This film is a romantic comedy that relies on mood, atmosphere, and subtle performances and entirely eschews formula.
We follow recently married philosophy graduate, Charlotte (Scarlet Johansson) and aging movie star who’s been married considerably longer, Bob (Bill Murray) – two insomniacs who cross paths in a Tokyo hotel. They strike up something that’s halfway between a friendship and a courtship as they wander through the neon lit streets from the late hours of the night until the early hours of the morning.
Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, this remains her magnum opus – and what a lovely, intimate magnum opus it is.
The characters here rarely say what’s on their mind, and this in conjunction with a lack of clear stakes, could make for an indulgent mess. But thanks to a tight script and direction, the ethereal, sleepy, and gently humorous tone of this story is enchanting instead of dreary. When you consider this in the context of Coppola’s other films it’s a miraculous anomaly, as they do tend spin out of control and end up as ambitious, but ultimately indulgent bores (particularly Somewhere and The Bling Ring).
Despite the inconsistent quality of her film’s, you can always count on Coppola delivering a killer selection of tracks, and this film is no exception. Featuring music from My Bloody Valentine, The Jesus and Mary Chain, Death in Vegas and more, the soundtrack is not just pleasant window dressing, but is absolutely vital creating the mood of this film.
Performances across the board are pitch perfect – enough has been said about Bill Murray’s turn as Bob, but I’ll meekly submit my own voice to the chorus that sings this guy’s praises by saying that Murray can suggest a rich interior life and history with just a few glances and a single line of dialogue.
This film broke a then 18 year old Scarlet Johansson into the mainstream. She convincingly brings to life an intelligent, mature, and utterly purposeless 26 year old Yale graduate. Much has been said of Murray’s role in Lost in Translation, and, sadly, not enough about Johansson’s turn. Which is a shame as her nuanced performance carries the movie – from her own teary confession that the amazing temple she visited made her feel nothing, to her adoration and amazement when she’s strolling through the cherry blossom-strewn streets of Kyoto, Johansson completely sells the whirlwind of emotions that can seize a person when visiting a foreign land.
Murray gets the wittiest lines, but Johansson is the beating, beautiful heart of Lost in Translation.
Sofia Coppola’s sophomore effort is a delicate piece. It’s pleasures aren’t easily yielded (ie there is nothing here shoved down your throat), but when they’re discovered, they are exquisite and lasting. A masterpiece.