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

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Velly good.

Feb 9, 2004
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Writing. Directing. Acting.

Cons:Lack of compelling narrative.

The Bottom Line: One of the best films of the year.


Lost in Translation tells the story of two demographically different Americans who develop an intimate Platonic relationship while in Japan. Bill Murray plays Bob Harris, an aging movie star who has reluctantly made the trans-Pacific trek to cash in on a lucrative endorsement deal. Scarlett Johansson stars opposite Murray as Charlotte, a recently married young woman who is discovering that her marriage isn't what she thought it might be.

These two are the story of Lost in Translation, as only a couple other characters have significant parts in this dramedy. Therefore the effectiveness of the entire film relies upon the effectiveness of Murray, Johansson, and the script of writer/director/producer Sofia Coppola. Fortunately their work is absolutely up to the challenge. Coppola wrote an screenplay that could easily have turned into a grand indictment of Hollywood or marriage, but instead opted for the less-traveled, unpretentious road of simplicity, concentrating the entire film on her odd couple. In a deliberately paced film (very similar to Coppola's The Virgin Suicides) such as this one, extraneous parts could have doomed it to mediocrity. But there are no gratuitous scenes that tell unneeded side stories, as each one either directly or indirectly leads back to the core relationship.

Coppola and her crew emphasize the simplicity of the relationship by juxtaposing it with the vast size and craziness of bustling Tokyo. Times Square-esque shots of towering buildings with colossal dinosaurs and gaudy neon contrast wonderfully with two people quietly sitting at a sushi restaurant.

In those quiet scenes, the onus is on the actors to move the film forward. This is a task much more difficult than most realize. Making true conversation heartfelt and impromptu without sounding fake is a vastly underappreciated art form, yet Johansson and Murray nail these scenes. Johansson in particular deserves credit for being every bit the equal of the veteran Murray, who no doubt improvised good chunks of their scenes. The scene on the bed merits individual praise. As the key point in the relationship, it is the fulcrum on which the entire film teeters. Had it failed, the film would not have garnered such praise. But it succeeds wildly, as the two characters open up to each other in gestures of true friendship rather than revert to one of the typical sexual encounters that plague many films.

All of this good and well, but if no one can relate to the characters, then the film still isn't going anywhere. This is where Coppola's writing genius manifests itself. In her two leads, she has created characters that are at two of the most vulnerable times of a human's life. Johansson's just out of college and just-married character is still searching for her place in life, while Murray's fading actor is enduring a mid-life crisis of sorts. Having gone through similar issues, everyone can relate to at least one of their problems. That's the hook, and it works quite effectively.

Lost in Translation has won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy/Musical, which is an interesting categorization considering that the meat of the story is anything but comedic. The humor lies in the little things (pun intended) relating to the differences in cultures, which Coppola and Murray masterfully point out in funny yet not disrespectful ways. Quirks like the low shower head and Murray's height discrepancy are small but very necessary aspects of the film, keeping the mood from becoming overbearingly dreary. Those moments plus the generally upbeat nature of the main characters infuse the film with vitality despite its somber subject matter.

If there's a complaint I have about this film, it's the lack of a compelling force that drives the narrative. The script is not a traditional three-act play with rising and falling action. The plot is extremely linear, moving forward consistently but not dynamically. Because the story was very well told, this didn't bother me much, but it is about the only thing holding the film back from utter greatness.

DVD Details

The widescreen presentation, which expresses the scope of the film much better than the pan-n-scan, features both Dolby 5.1 and DTS audio tracks, the latter of which is fuller and richer, showcasing the film's soft and understated, yet driving, soundtrack.

Lost on Location is a half-hour documentary-style featurette taped over the course of the 27-day shoot. Completely different from most promotional material, this is not slickly edited into an elongated trailer, but is instead observational, possessing a home video feel that casually gives the viewer a feel for how the film was made. Much like the film itself, the doc is refreshingly different and enjoyable.

A Conversation with Sofia Coppola & Bill Murray is just that. For about ten minutes, the pair stand on a rooftop in Rome, discussing the film and the various people involved. Nothing great here, but still worth viewing.

Like most of their kind, the five deleted scenes here were all properly removed, as they mostly echo themes already present in the film. However, these are better than most axed scenes, even though a press conference scene lasts entire too long.

Kevin Shields' music video for City Girl stays right in the footsteps of the film itself, as the music is set against various shots. A pleasant bonus.

The extended scene of Matthew Best's Hit TV is the least necessary feature. As if the few minutes of him in the film weren't enough, here are more painfully unfunny excerpts, although Murray nearly redeems them.

This film cries out for a director's commentary, but alas, there is not one on the disc, and that is most unfortunate, because a single-minded effort like Coppola's begs for elaboration. Other than that, this is a decent but not spectacular DVD release.

Final Thoughts

Lost in Translation is not a film that will leave you slack-jawed or emotionally drained. Therefore its excellence may not be initially appreciated. But upon mental review, I realized how little was wrong and how much was right with the film. It will stick with anyone who finds themselves in similar life circumstances to either character, and dare I say, might actually impact lives. That makes for quite a film. One of the best of 2003.


Recommend this product? Yes

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