Sometimes you make a certain connection with someone. You aren't sure how it happens or whether that person will stay in your life or not but you know once you meet them that you'll never forget them. For the aging movie star Bob Harris (Bill Murray) the moment comes when he crosses paths with the twentysomething Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) one night in a luxury hotel bar in Tokyo. Lost In Translation succinctly captures this life moment and eloquently paints an exquisite portrait of these two people. Bob neck-deep in a midlife crisis is in the Asian capital for a week because as he explains "[he is] getting paid $2 million to shoot a commercial when [he] could be doing a play somewhere." Charlotte on the other hand is also having a what-do-I-do-with-my-life? dilemma and is in Tokyo with her workaholic photographer husband John (Giovanni Ribisi). Bob and Charlotte's meeting is fortuitous and soon turns into a surprising relationship albeit a fairly chaste one. The two simply enjoy each other's company and begin to have one hilarious misadventure after another on the streets of Tokyo. Unfortunately though their time together is short-lived as each must go back to the realities on their own lives. Yet through the strong bond between them they each develop a new belief in life's possibilities.
It's about time someone gave Bill Murray a leading juicy role the talented actor could sink his teeth into. Throughout his career he has made moviegoers laugh themselves silly in broad comedies such as Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day but only small parts in independent films have allowed him to show his more sensitive side. Many said Murray should have been nominated for an Oscar for his performance in the underrated Rushmore but maybe that just paved the way for his Oscar-worthy turn as Bob. The actor has moments in Translation where he is the Saturday Night Live alum we all know and love; he is excruciatingly funny especially as the over-six-foot comedian improvises with the smaller Japanese people in his usual deadpan style. But when Bob connects with Charlotte the funny guy is put on the back burner while the more complex lonely Bob emerges searching for clues to make his life right again. Charlotte is looking for her own signs and Johansson (Ghost World) is nothing short of amazing in the role. The young actress is achingly honest either sitting around her hotel room in her underwear or observing the odd Japanese culture and she let us know that Charlotte has a whole life waiting for her to take hold of. And when the two actors finally come together the combination is electric. In one particular moment in what will most likely be the film's signature scene Bob and Charlotte sweetly sing karoke songs to one another--his Roxy Music's "More Than This " hers the Pretenders' "Brass in Pocket"--both knowing the physical attraction could never happen but knowing they are sharing a romance nonetheless. In the supporting roles Ribisi does a nice job as the ambitious husband while Anna Faris (Scary Movie) makes a hilarious appearance as an actress hawking her latest B-movie in Japan.
With Lost In Translation writer/director Sofia Coppola who made her directorial debut with the critically acclaimed understatedly poignant The Virgin Suicides has proven her talent behind the camera wasn't a fluke. While Translation is a brilliantly written character study of two lost souls finding redemption in one another it is also clearly a love letter to Tokyo where Coppola spent some time when she was younger. As the atypical Americans Bob and Charlotte can at times stick out like sore thumbs. It's not hard to miss that the Japanese view things a little bit differently than the rest of the world--and the film revels in this from the technologically advanced arcades that populate the city to the whacked-out over-the-top television programs. Yet Translation never becomes an "us against them." On the contrary Coppola wants the audience to love the city and culture as much as she does and affectionately paints Tokyo in its various incarnations with series of long shots and panoramic views. The young director also lets us see a bit of the Japanese countryside as well when Charlotte visits a Kyoto garden and Buddhist temple. Although beautiful some of these indulgent moments drag on a bit too long but soon you realize their significance within the theme of the movie.