Lost in Translation (DVD, 2004, Widescreen) Reviews
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Lost in Translation (DVD, 2004, Widescreen)

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LOST IN TRANSLATION Is a Bitter-Sweet Movie about Loss of Communication.

Feb 2, 2004 (Updated Feb 5, 2004)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Murray, Johansson, their interaction, and the mis-en-scene of a Japanese Hilton catering to Westerners.

Cons:Film is perhaps too cool for its own good, but it will appeal to women.

The Bottom Line: LOST IN TRANSLATION continues showing the development as director and writer of Sophia Coppola, so savaged for her first appearance in GODFATHER III. A knowing slice of tourist life.


Many of us, by now, have had the experience of flying into some far city. We are a bit bleary-eyed and out-of-synch. A cold blast, or warm breeze, of foreign air strikes us as we alight. People hurry by us. We must find a taxi or a shuttle. We are worried about our ignorance of the language. (Perhaps, we are lucky enough to have someone meet us.) In any case, we soon find that our preconceptions about a place are mistaken, at least inadequate. Sometimes, the country is much more intriguing than we thought; sometimes, not. Americans, like the British before them, lords of all we survey these days, have a tendency to find a hotel which has beds, restaurants, bars and enough people who look and speak like us, so we can spend a couple of days, or couple of weeks, without ever having an authentic ethnic experience. We return home with a wad of pretty photos, horror stories about the plumbing, and condescending observations on the funny [weird] people we encountered.

An opportunity for growth and learning has been . . . lost in translation.

It has become almost inevitable because, unless we fly to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, everywhere Americans go today, we are likely to be enveloped by (shamelessly encouraged) bad copies of U.S. commercial culture.

Writer/Director Sophia Coppola (THE VIRGIN SUICIDES, 2000) has compounded the problem by setting her highly praised second film, LOST IN TRANSLATION, in Japan, a country which was the first overseas empire to benefit or to be victimized (depending on how you look at it) by American economic imperialism. From 1853 onward, when Commodore Mathew Perry, and then Consul Townsend Harris, opened trans-Pacific trade, there began a love-hate relationship with the formerly self-isolated Japan. Whenever Japan was subservient to American interests, she was tolerated. When she became aggressive, we attempted to swat her down, isolate her and thwart her own imperial ambitions. The result was eventually Pearl Harbor. Having weathered her economic onslaught after World War II, and her depressed plight during the last ten years or so, the United States has now implored Japan to remilitarize in order to take up a portion of our "war on terror."

No nation in the World has so attempted to become more like urban America, while maintaining its customs and values, than Japan. Writer Coppola seems as interested in the tangled tendrils of electronic technology and culture as her father, Francis Ford Coppola, was when he embraced pioneer Japanese video and digital processes, in the 1970's, for his Zeotrope Movie Company. Director Coppola took her cameras and sound recorders to Japan; then after her return, recreated much of what she saw and heard as the basis of a movie about the difficulties of understanding another culture, and the failure of human communication.

Movie Star Bob Harris (Bill Murray), following in the cyber-steps of other aging American celebrities (Sylvester Stallone, Dennis Hopper, Arnold Schwartzenegger, etc), makes his first visit to Japan to appear in a Suntory Scotch Whisky commercial. Weary, jet-lagged, Harris is a stoic person, long inured to the craziness of TV and Movies, but even he is not prepared for the bizarre permutations of American popular culture as transmuted by Japanese ingenuity.

On the same flight, Bob can't help notice beautiful, young Charlotte, a philosophy major, the recent bride of a hotshot fashion photographer named John (Giovanni Ribisi). Like Bob, the wistful Charlotte and the hypertensive John are booked into a typical Hilton in downtown Tokyo, the kind of place (available now in almost any city in the World) where they might spend weeks, and aside from the help, just as well be in San Francisco, Chicago or New York. Older, more experienced, and very busy, John cuts Charlotte loose with little to occupy her. She spends her days alone in the isolation of their suite, looking down from the big, double-paned windows on Tokyo, far below. In the evenings, she tries to fit in with John's media friends, but she is soon disturbed to discover that a former girlfriend of John's, Kelly (Ana Faris), happens to be in the small world of the hotel. Charlotte finds it hard to discuss with John the state of their marriage, nor does she get much sympathy when she tries to phone home . . .

And Bob's phone conversations with his wife back in America about domestic matters seem no more satisfactory.

During his day, Bob has to endure technical people who are doing their best to appear like their Western counterparts, with sometimes illogical results. Bob takes it all in with as much laid back acceptance as a . . . well . . . a Bill Murray might display. At night, he goes to the "New York Bar," where he drinks his sponsor's product while listening to the Sausalito Combo recreate arrangements of late 20th Century popular classics for a not very adept American Jazz Singer (Catherine Lambers).

Though not inevitable, but understandable, the old star and the young bride begin to spend time together, more so when John goes off on a shoot. The age-old attraction -- she provides him youth and innocence, and he gives her a vaguely remembered model, with some mature experience and understanding -- strikes us as old-fashioned. Yet, the film takes a rather different course than we might expect.

Sophia Coppola's LOST IN TRANSLATION is in some ways like a gently comedic treatment of her father's theme in THE CONVERSATION; it is a haiku of a motion picture, which contrasts a microcosmic lonely couple against the macrocosmic urban season of a great Japanese city. They explore the Ginza, as spectacular as Las Vegas or New York, but of course, bewildering to these Westerners because everything is in neon calligraphy. Even a side trip to Kyoto, the temple city of Japan, where Charlotte wants to want to exercise her academic education in philosophy, appears "lost in translation."

As are they.

That is really all there is to LOST IN TRANSLATION. A large Japanese supporting cast does not much register because, except for a sequence near the end, they are sketched in: public relations agents (3), a concierge, a bellboy, on and on. Most of the other Westerners encountered are equally casual.

LOST IN TRANSLATION is both warm in its emotions and cool in its presentation. Sophia Coppola has received Oscar nominations for her direction, her screenplay and for Best Picture. Bill Murray is up for Best Actor. Much as I enjoyed the film, I must say that Ms. Coppola may not quite deserve these awards yet, but Murray has a shot at an Oscar, at last.

As Robert Burns, another outlander, said: "O what a gift it is to see ourselves as others see us."

---------------

For Macresarf1 Reviews of other Movies mentioned, click on the following hyperlinks:

THE CONVERSATION --

http://www.epinions.com/content_80664563332

THE GODFATHER III --

http://www.epinions.com/mvie-review-18CD-3AC1370-39345796-prod5

Sophia Coppola Opens the 43rd San Francisco International Film Festival with her debut film: THE VIRGIN SUICIDES --

http://www.epinions.com/trvl-review-273D-65AB1B-3905E5F3-prod6

A Review of THE VIRGIN SUICIDES --

http://www.epinions.com/mvie-review-18D6-82E8F7-39061EBD-prod4


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