“Lost in Translation.” A film that has been comforting me for over 10 years.
“Lost in Translation” is one of my all-time favorite movies. When people ask me about my favorite films, I am most likely to first mention this one. Most folks have not heard of it. Those who have seen it report having had mixed reactions. Some have liked it, and some have not. Nobody I’ve talked with about this movie has mentioned liking it as much as I do.
The movie doesn’t have much of a plot, and doesn’t need much of a plot to be wonderful. The story is very simple. It’s about two people, and their friendship.
The two main characters are Bob, played by Bill Murray, and Charlotte, who is played by Scarlett Johansson. Bob is a famous actor, and is in Japan to do an advertising campaign for Suntory Whiskey (which is actually a real brand of whiskey. I just learned that a few minutes ago when I looked it up). It is common for famous American actors and actresses to avoid doing commercials that air in the US. However, I’ve heard they feel less hesitant to appear in commercials and print advertisements that appear in other countries. So.. off goes Bob to Japan to promote some whiskey.
Charlotte is a young woman who is married to a famous, overly busy photographer named John, played by Giovanni Ribisi. He takes pictures of actors, rock stars, and other celebrities. He’s constantly running off to do photo shoots in many parts of Japan. Charlotte is left alone in the Park Hyatt Tokyo building, where Bob is also staying.
Bob deals with such things as an incredibly inept translator, an awkward photo shoot and an even more awkward filming of a TV commercial. In the commercial scene, there’s a lot of yammering in Japanese, and there are no subtitles. We, the audience, are meant to feel the confusion and frustration Bob feels. His translator tells Bob only a fraction of what the director is saying.
Bob is also dealing with being away from his wife, who he talks with on the phone. He probably feels a bit lost without her, but doesn’t feel very good about the marriage either. He and his wife have been married 25 years, and the marriage is not entirely satisfactory. The movie doesn’t get into why. It seems some married people just get tired of each other.
Charlotte is trying to cope with loneliness and confusion. She misses her husband when he is gone, but also is seriously questioning their marriage. They have been married for two years, and she is wondering why she made the decision to marry John.
Charlotte and Bob meet in the hotel bar, and become friends. Charlotte recognizes Bob, because he is a movie star. She is sitting at a table with some other people, but is growing bored with them, and has a waiter send over a drink to Bob. Later, they start talking with each other in the bar, in another scene.
Surprisingly, they do not become lovers. This is something I really like about the film. It does not take the usual Hollywood plot turn.. old famous guy bedding the young woman. Nope. They are friends. The movie is about them finding each other, and spending a few days and nights together, exploring Tokyo, sharing drinks, and hanging out with some of Charlotte’s Japanese pals. Charlotte finally is able to get past her loneliness, and ventures out into the city. She feels better about doing so, because she has Bob to bring along with her.
The movie is almost entirely dialog. There are also scenes of Tokyo and other parts of Japan. During some of these scenes, no one is talking. We take in the beauty.
There is much excellent music in this film, but almost none of it is Japanese. There are many ’80’s alternative tunes, and some more recently composed music. It all goes perfectly with the scenery. This movie, is, for the most part, truly beautiful.
The movie is very clean except for a few scenes. Early in the film, a middle-aged, classy but very odd prostitute shows up at the door of Bob’s hotel room. He is surprised to see her. He did not order a prostitute. She just shows up, and says, “Mr. Kawzu sent me.” We never find out who Mr. Kawzu is. This scene with the prostitute is not very raunchy. It is definitely odd, and funny.
There is only one scene that has nudity in it. This scene should not have been in the film at all. Almost all of the film is lovely. Not this part though. For some reason I don’t know, after Charlotte and Bob have been friends for a day or two, they decide to meet in a tiny strip club. A rather nasty rap track is playing, and there is a stripper dancing. This scene is why the movie got the R rating.
Why get an R rating? I read somewhere years ago that films that have an R-rating generally make more money than those that don’t. Times have changed. PG-13 movies do very well these days. But, “Lost in Translation” is now 10 years old.
Another reason for this scene? I’m not sure. The movie was written and directed by Sofia Coppola, the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, the great director. FFC made such films as the Godfather series, and “Apocalypse Now.” FFC has never shied away from putting adult content in his films. But, FFC, to my knowledge, never made a tender, wistful film like this. This movie did not need a strip joint scene in it.
Other than that scene.. the movie could have been rated PG… maybe PG-13 for the scene with the prostitute. No violence, almost no foul language at all. Almost no other sexual content.
Oh yeah, I forgot about the opening scene, which is an extreme closeup of Charlotte’s backside, clothed in transparent pink panties. That, I think, was an odd way to open the movie. I suppose a close-up of Scarlett Johansson’s buttocks could earn a movie a PG-13 rating, but not an R rating. I did not find this view to be stimulating, and I don’t think it is even meant to be stimulating.
Out of all of Scarlett Johansson’s roles, this is my favorite. This is one of her early adult roles (she’d been in many films as a kid). When she made this film, she had not yet become such a sex symbol. Her character is not meant to be sexy. Scarlett even has a pot belly in this movie.
One thing I keep wondering about is this: is the character she is playing supposed to be pregnant? The character looks slightly pregnant, but this is never mentioned in the film. Maybe Sofia Coppola wanted Scarlett to look less sexy than she otherwise would, so she had Scarlett put on some extra weight before staring in this film. I don’t know. But, if you are insisting on only seeing Johansson when she looks really sexy, you’ll want to skip this movie.
I just love Johansson’s performance. So gentle and sad, and finally happy for a little while. Charlotte is my favorite female movie character. The main reason Scarlett Johansson is my favorite actress is because of her portrayal of Charlotte. It’s of the reasons I love this movie so much.
I don’t know if you will love this movie as much as I do. I’m wondering if you will find the movie worth watching.
I don’t know. If all you watch are big-time blockbusters (nothing wrong with those necessarily.. some of my favorite films are superhero movies and Tolkien films), and can’t handle subtle, gentle and understated roles by Murray and Johansson, you won’t like this movie. If you want an epic love story, you will also not like this movie. The film is about an unlikely friendship between two people who appear to have very little in common.
I’m guessing that, since you are reading a blog, you are probably a person of above average intelligence (my guess is that stupid people don’t read or write blogs), who can appreciate a variety of films. Maybe this one.
Why do I love this movie, even after seeing it over 20 times?
Besides the reasons I already mentioned.. the acting, the visuals, the music.. I saw the film during a time in which I was very much interested in Japan. For years, I studied Japanese culture, watched travel films and many documentaries. I watched several Japanese movies, studied Zen Buddhism, tried an Aikido (Japanese martial art) class, and learned a few phrases in Japanese. So.. of course I would like the film more than people who have no interest in anything Japanese.
But, even if you have had no interest in anything Japanese at all, you might still very much like this movie.
It is a drama with some humorous moments. Bill Murray is funny, but not so funny as in earlier films like “Ghostbusters.” Charlotte’s character is more serious than funny. She’s having a hard time.. well.. they both are, in their own ways.
And they are lost in various ways. There’s the words that get lost in translation. The two people are lost in their own marriages. They have to be careful not to get lost in Tokyo, which, I have read, can be a terribly confusing city to navigate. Even people fluent in Japanese and who can read Japanese get lost in Tokyo.
Charlotte is lost in another way. She has recently finished college, and is trying to figure out what to do with her life. Her husband has a career that keeps him busy. Charlotte has no career, and does not know what to do.
I often feel lost too. For me, this movie is therapy.
I have anxiety problems and some other serious issues. I often feel lost in my own life. I’m always up late, alone. Sometimes it is hard to get to sleep. I know what it is like to be up at 4 in the morning, feeling anxious and depressed. This movie comforts me. A lot.
The characters, besides being lost in several ways, are also alone at first. They both have trouble sleeping, and are awake late into the night, even when they don’t want to be. I relate to these characters. I don’t have any wonderful friendships, so I enjoy theirs.
And I love the music, and the sites, and the excellent performances by everyone in the film. Yes, besides the strip joint scene, the movie really is wonderful. It has gotten me through many days, and even more nights, when I have felt especially worried, unsettled, or down. I am SO grateful for this film.
I have no idea what your reaction to this movie will be. Watch the trailer below, and see what you think.
It might just be your time to get lost in this movie. I hope you love it.
Thanks for reading.