Lost in Translation
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- Bob: I don't want to leave... - Charlotte: So don't! Stay here with me. We'll start a jazz band...
Friday, June 14, 2024

Channel 4 Review


After the considerable maturity and promise shown with her debut feature, The Virgin Suicides, Sofia Coppola returns with a sophisticated sophomore effort that remains significantly different from its predecessor. If anything, it's a coy, modest work of startling beauty. From its opening shot, of Scarlett Johansson's rear-end covered in see-through pink panties, the film throws a veil over sex itself, preferring to concentrate on feelings rather than fumblings.

r2aThe film centers on Bob Harris (Murray), an actor with a reputation of some note from the films he made back in the 70s. Now reduced to endorsing Japanese whisky, he finds himself in Tokyo on a short trip to shoot a commercial. Put up in a luxurious hotel, he comes across the young-but-demure Charlotte (Johansson) in the bar. Married for two years to John (Ribisi), a hip celebrity photographer, Charlotte is accompanying her husband while he is on assignment in Japan. With John out of Tokyo shooting a pop band, Charlotte and Bob strike up an alliance, and it soon becomes painfully clear that neither character is happy with their lot.

While Bob is getting paid $2 million to humiliate himself (notably on a chat-show with "The Johnny Carson of Japan"), he confesses the trip is "to get away" from his wife, who is bugging him about home furnishings. Charlotte, meanwhile, has evidently made the wrong choice in John, who immediately flirts with a Hollywood bimbo - in town to promote a kung-fu flick made with Keanu Reeves called 'Midnight Velocity' - when they encounter her in the hotel lobby. As Charlotte draws closer to Bob, she confesses: "I just don't know what I'm supposed to be," while he confides "I am lost". But will they consummate their evident feelings for each other?


Murray, already undergoing a career renaissance following his collaborations with Wes Anderson in Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, is masterful here. His comic timing (as well as his impersonation of Roger Moore!) has never been better but more importantly the pain etched on his world-weary face is evident for all to see. In Johansson, he finds the ideal sparring partner, as she delivers her finest screen performance to date - full of understated angst, sadness and sorrow.

But the real star is Sofia Coppola. Working from an economic script that shrewdly and amusingly captures the alien quality of Japan as seen through Western eyes, Coppola ensures that the clean, crisp visuals complement this premise. Using both the tranquil and chaotic land- and cityscapes of Japan to suggest the characters' emotional states, she is never heavy handed in this approach, always keeping the camera still and reserved. As the title suggests, the prime focus is that of miscommunication between individuals - both linguistic and emotional - and it's a theme that unifies the film as a whole.

r2cUndoubtedly her first-hand experience of actors - be they fading or on the rise - comes into play, as well as her own young marriage to fellow filmmaker Spike Jonze. As a result, the film is as personal as it is universal - which is what makes it such a joy to watch.
Acutely judged from beginning to end, Lost In Translation transcends its initial culture clash comic riffs to evolve into something altogether more moving by the end. As a result, it's a work of considerable power and pathos.

By James Mottram