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Lost in Translation (2003)
Lost in Translation is a 2003 American film written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Her second feature film, after The Virgin Suicides (1999), it stars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. A drama with elements of comedy and romance, the film revolves around an aging actor named Bob Harris (Murray) and a recent college graduate named Charlotte (Johansson) who develop a rapport after a chance meeting in a Tokyo hotel. The movie explores themes of loneliness, alienation, insomnia, existential ennui and culture shock against the backdrop of a modern Japanese cityscape. Lost in Translation was a major critical success and was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Bill Murray, and Best Director for Sofia Coppola; Coppola won for Best Original Screenplay. Scarlett Johansson won a BAFTA award for Best Actress in a Leading Role. The film was also a commercial success, grossing almost $120 million from a budget of only $4 million. Bob Harris (Murray), an aging American movie star, arrives in Tokyo to film an advertisement for Suntory whisky, for which he will receive $2 million.
The recently wed Charlotte (Johansson) lazes around her hotel room, waiting for her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) to return from another crazy day of shooting. She spends some of her days wandering into cultural parks and entertainment, but finds herself stifled by a lack of direction. Her path converges with Bob (Bill Murray), a famous actor from America who is stuck in filming commercials because the money is just too darn good to turn down. Both are experiencing an estrangement from their spouses and get caught in reflection of where they are headed, leading to a powerful camaraderie that seeks enjoyment and solace.
Beneath the soul-searching of the central duo is a sense of humor at life's little troubles. They laugh at themselves, they laugh at others, and because they can do both, their roles are easy to relate to, whether or not you've been through a similar situation. Charlotte learns to appreciate the openness her youth can offer, while Bob is able to find that he wouldn't return to those previous stages of his life if given the chance. Their dialogue remains surprisingly natural despite the philosophical principles that are being wrestled with.
Though it's a credit to Coppola (who also penned the script) that she can effortlessly combine struggle with laughter, it is often too bent on making fun of how stupid Americans act overseas. The language barrier Bob experiences on set constantly feels fresh and funny, but the continual blonde actress joke (Anna Faris) gets old fast, slowing the emotional progression of Lost considerably. This may also have more to do with the talents of Bill Murray far exceeding those of Faris (big shock there), who can work any quirk with the right facial expression.
There is other fat besides the inclusion of Faris that could have been trimmed without losing the effervescent feeling of the story. The wonderfully energetic camera is not quite matched by the seemingly haphazard editing. The pacing of information of the key characters is organically well-structured, but scenes either extend further than needed, or cut away too quickly at a particularly engaging moment.
While Lost in Translation is flawed, it's still a joy to watch. The friendly chemistry between Johansson and Murray builds with a rare subtlety and their adventures, both physical and mental, are truly moving without ending up heavy-handed. It's also a great diversion, in the current realm of special effects blockbusters and the slew of horror films being released, to sit through a simple tale of two very different people having such a positive effect on one another.
But we found some great sushi!