IN TRANSLATION (2003)
Starring Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni
Ribisi, Anna Faris, Akiko Kakashito, Kazuyoshi Minamimagoe, Catherine
Lambert, Kazuko Shibata, Take, Ryuichiro Baba, Akira Yamaguchi, Francois
du Bois, Tim Leffman, Gregory Pekar, Yutaka Tadokoro, Nao Asuka, Tetsuro
Naka, Yasohiko Hattori, Lisle Wilkerson and Richard Allen.
Screenplay by Sofia Coppola.
Directed by Sofia
Distributed by Focus Features.
Rated PG-13. 102 minutes.
of the dirty little secrets of show business is that huge stars who would
never do anything so mundane and compromised as advertising in their
homeland will often take the big bucks to shill products in Japan. If
you watched TV there in the last decade or so, you would find Arnold
Schwarzenegger and Harrison Ford pushing beer, Woody Allen recommending a
chain of department stores, Paul Newman selling watches, Brad Pitt marketing cars, Jodie Foster and Mariah Carey
promoting cosmetics... the list goes on
phenomenon forms the backbone of this unique new story from writer
director Sofia Coppola. Bill Murray plays Bob Harris, a beloved
American star who is flown into the land of the Rising Sun to film a
commercial for a local brand of whiskey. Harris is in the midst of a
mid-life crisis. He is twenty-five years into a stagnating marriage
where his wife seems to have become more interested in the kids and carpet
swatches than she is in him. He is jet lagged and yet he can't sleep
because his body clock is thrown completely out of whack. Everything
around him is odd and alien. He can't understand what most people in
Japan are saying to him. Nor can he understand why he's doing a booze
commercial in Tokyo when he could be doing a play or movie at home. Well, okay, he does
understand why, as he flippantly explains to a near stranger, "two-million
dollars," but that knowledge does not make him happy about it.
near stranger is a young American girl named Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson
of Ghost World). She too is lost in Tokyo. Charlotte came
out of boredom with her rock photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi). Only two years into
the marriage and Charlotte also is having deep doubts. Her husband is
always so busy with work that he has little time for her. On the rare
occasions that he does let her into his world, she finds the people there
shallow and superficial. Charlotte spends most of the day alone in a
hotel room trying to find something to do. Even the TV is strange and
frenetic. She too can't sleep and doesn't know what to do with
Bob and Charlotte first see each
other on an
elevator, and then meet on one of their many sleepless nights at the hotel bar. They don't
talk at first but keep running into each other. They start making
small talk, and then get deeper. They quickly grow
close, partially because they have found a kindred spirit, partially because
they feel isolated from the world surrounding them. Bob and Charlotte
experience Tokyo together: they go out, they
sing karaoke, they get thrown out of a bar. But most importantly they
talk. They really come to understand each other at a time when they
feel both totally misunderstood by everyone else. There is a hint of sexual tension between
the two, but it is to the movie's credit that it is not acted upon, except
for one brief kiss. Because Lost In Translation isn't about
losing oneself in another person, it is about finding oneself.
Writer/director Coppola does a wonderful job of capturing Tokyo's culture
(and cult) of technology... it is a constant swirl of blinking lights and noise
and motion. She shows the city to be
simultaneously beautiful and awe-inspiring and overwhelming and a bit
Murray's performance is
breathtaking. The basset-hound features and quick wit of his
comic performances are shrouded in a fog of disjointedness and exquisitely
sad eyes. Here is a man who is famous for making others happy, but
sometimes is seems like an obligation to him, a curse. Everyone thinks
that they know him but no one really does. Murray is able to convey
this contradiction in his life with a brief sigh or a desperate look.
Comedians almost never get serious consideration by the Academy, but this is
an Oscar-worthy performance.
The pleasant surprise is that
Johansson is able to keep up with his performance so completely. Her Charlotte is
bruised... figuratively and literally. She is touched when Bob insists
she go to a hospital for a black toe she got from stubbing it, a wound which
her husband hadn't even noticed. She has a subtle girl-next-door
sexiness, but she doesn't trust her looks, particularly when she and her
husband run into a vapid Hollywood ingénue (Anna Faris) who seems just a little
friendly to him. She fears that she has made a big mistake in getting
married, but she has no idea what else she is supposed to be doing with her
life. Charlotte should be a breakout role for Johansson, and any work
she gets from it is completely deserved.
for Sofia Coppola, she has been hearing whispers of nepotism
since she was a girl and father Francis Ford Coppola cast her in his films
New York Stories and The Godfather Part III. Well, her
acting skills were debatable, but the jibes were doubled in 1999... when she
married director Spike Jonze and announced like her father and husband, she
was going to direct. Her first film, The Virgin Suicides, was
good enough that some people realized maybe she could do it on her own, but
the stigma remained. Lost In Translation should hush all the
doubters. It is better than anything that her father has done in
years, and though it's not as flashy as hubby Jonze's Being John
Malkovich and Adaptation, it is a more subtly moving and
insightful experience than either of those films.
Soon Francis is going to start having to get used to
Sofia Coppola's father. (9/03)
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright © 2003
PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: October 5, 2003.
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Copyright © 2003 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
Posted: October 5, 2003.