The film, written and directed by Sofia Coppola, focuses on Charlotte (Scarlett Johannson), a young woman grappling with her uncertain future. The other key player is Charlottes newfound companion: timeworn actor Bob Harris (Bill Murray), whose career has become laughably obsolete. She is in Tokyo with her often-absent photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi), while Harris is in town doing a pricey ad campaign for Japanese whiskey.
Amidst their mechanized oriental surroundings, where almost nothing seems personal or relatable, the unusual pair is able to forge a playfully intimate friendship. The wisecracking duo hop from party to party and bar to bar, all the while immersed in a state youthful vigor that neither one has experienced in quite some time.
With elements reminiscent of Coppolas 1999 directorial debut, the brilliantly ethereal The Virgin Suicides, Lost in Translation is a lovely film. Its reverberating message seems to be that sometimes all anyone really needs is some genuine human contact.
Both characters are certainly in need of human touch. Bobs wife assails him with a daily barrage of bitter faxes and phone calls, while Charlottes husband incessantly neglects her. Neither one is able to get any sleep; Bob watches TV while Charlotte listens to philosophical audio books about soul-searching. Both are compelled, nightly, to seek solace in their drinks at the hotel bar.
Johannson, with her delicate features and childlike facade, is the portrait of female vulnerability Coppolas signature cinematic character. Murray, with his token dry humor and subtle wit, puts on his most notable performance since his Oscar-worthy role in 1998s Rushmore. His quirky facial expressions and constant struggle with the Japanese/American language barrier lay a strong comedic foundation for what is otherwise a slightly obscure film.
Coppola doesnt waste time with unnecessary exposition or dialogue; instead, her script is terse and significant, and her story is one of substance and plausibility. The only aspects of the film that hinder its genius are the occasional slow moment and a few distracting subplots.
Though some of the cinematography seems abrupt there are several unnecessary scenes the overall composition of the film is highly alluring. The constant montages of Tokyos chaotic nightlife, juxtaposed with the sterile and colorless images of Charlottes hotel room, have a dazzling effect on viewers. The film is saturated with eye-popping and palpable imagery.
Where Coppola most succeeds with Lost in Translation is the relationship she establishes between the graying actor and his young female friend. Never is it taken to the level of a modern-day Lolita story, nor is it so sexually-repressed that the pairs dynamic becomes one of a father and daughter. Had Coppola exploited the bond between her two central characters, the film wouldnt have been nearly as sincere or affecting.
Inevitably, Charlotte and Bob must go their separate ways. Though their parting is one of bittersweet emotion, it is ultimately hopeful, and never becomes overly sweet or cliché.
Coppola has created a film with true, albeit unique, integrity. Though success seems inevitable for this clever woman (her dad is director Francis Ford Coppola), Coppola has managed to make a small masterpiece out of Lost in Translation.
Lost in Translation has both comedic and heartbreaking moments (Murrays hilarious whiskey ads are paralleled with Johannsons lonely interludes on her windowsill). This brilliant, though understated film, will not leave viewers disappointed.