Movie Review: Lost in Translation

“The more you know who you are and what you want, the less you let things upset you.” – Bob Harris

Lost in Translation was written and directed by Sofia Coppola, and released in 2003. It tells the story of two people, Bob Harris (Bill Murray), a fifty-something movie star who has come to Tokyo to film a com­mercial for Suntory Whiskey, and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a young woman of twenty-one who is there with her husband John, a professional photographer on assignment.

In the scene that follows, we  get our first glimpse into the problems created by the language barrier, as Bob’s Japanese interpreter does a less than adequate job of translating the director’s instructions. A clear example of “lost in translation.” Note: When viewing this video, in order to understand the director and interpreter, it is necessary to click on the CC (Closed captioning) button in the lower right-hand corner of the video.

There is a 16-hour time difference between Los Angeles and Tokyo, and Bob and Charlotte are both suffering from jet lag, which is a constant presence in this movie. Unable to sleep, their paths cross in the hotel bar, where they begin to get acquainted. Though Bob has been married for 25 years – “25 long ones” he tells Charlotte – and Charlotte for only two, both are feeling increasingly distant from their spouses. When Charlotte asks Bob what he’s doing in Tokyo, he answers, “Taking a break from my wife, forgetting my son’s birthday, and getting paid two million dollars to endorse a whiskey when I could be doing a play somewhere.” Later, we see Charlotte talking on the phone with her friend Lauren, to whom she confides, “John is using these hair products. I don’t know who I married.” It’s interesting to contrast John’s nagging Charlotte about her smoking with Bob’s readiness to light her cigarette.

We see quickly that Bob and his wife are just going through the motions, as are Charlotte and John. With each other, however, they feel an immediate rapport, born in part out of their relief at meeting someone from home when they are feeling lost and alone in a foreign country. Charlotte is also attracted by Bob’s ability to make her laugh, and he by how natural she is with him. She isn’t at all impressed by his celebrity.

For my money, Lost in Translation is worth any number of big-budget action flicks. Watching Bob and Charlotte as they forge bonds of friendship and trust is one of the most satisfying movie experiences I can remember. These are people with real lives, real problems. I’m reminded of something I wrote years ago in my review of Bagdad Cafe:

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of this movie is how much we come to care about these people and how quickly we are drawn into their world. Credit for this must go… to writer/director Percy Adlon and his wife and writing partner Eleonore, who understand that great cinema does not depend on spectacle and special effects, but on finding and exploring situations in which the audience can relate to their characters.

In short, this is an exceptional movie, with many subtleties that reveal themselves only upon repeated viewings. It’s a great date night movie, rated R only because of one brief, unerotic scene in a Tokyo topless bar.

Derrick Robinson

Published in: on October 31, 2017 at 9:15 pm  Leave a Comment  
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