Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lost In Translation (2003)

First thing I'll say: This is an awesome poster. I wish that there was a way to get a print of this poster that wouldn't set me back $100. Not to knock the other poster, which is awesome and can be viewed here, I just prefer this one. It's colorful, eye catching , and lets face it, Scarlett is a little easier on the eyes that Bill Murray in a bathrobe.

I remember wanting to see this film when I was fifteen. I was wanting to develop a more sophisticated taste in films that my peers, and I was also interested in the art of cinema. I ended up buying the movie when it was released on DVD, and I watched it in the afternoon when I got home.

I shut it off after 20 minutes. My God it was boring. Time to go back to the populist movies that everyone liked. Fuck the Academy.

I held onto the DVD for some reason. I don't know why. Maybe fate. so, flash forward to my summer as a sixteen year old. We didn't have air-conditioning installed in my house yet, and the heat made it unbearable to sleep in my room. So, I did what I always did whenever it was too hot; I took my pillow and blanket and camped out on the couch in my basement. I still couldn't sleep, so I decided to put a movie on, and I noticed Lost in Translation on the shelf. I grabbed it and put it on, knowing that I'd be asleep in 20 minutes.

It didn't happen.

I stayed up late at night, totally engrossed in the movie. I don't know why I did; maybe my tastes matured, maybe the film is better at night. I don't know. I fell asleep at night with pleasant dreams of Tokyo and Scarlett Johanssen. This movie kick started my interest in the country of Japan and my crush on Scarlett Johanssen, but everybody knows that already.

Enough about my personal bullshit, I'm going to talk about the movie. Lost In Translation is about two people in Japan. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is an American actor getting paid $2 million to appear in a Suntory Whiskey commercial. Bob is very much washed up, doing the commercial for the money, when he "really wants to be doing a play somewhere." His marriage is lacking communication; his wife sends him carpet samples and faxes him to let him know he forgot his son's birthday. Charlotte (Johanssen) is 25 years old, a philosophy graduate from Yale, who is tagging along with her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribsi). Charlotte is wondering about her purpose in life, and whether or not her marriage was the right thing to do. Bob and Charlotte meet by chance at the hotel bar, and a friendship develops. They decide to make the most of their time together in Tokyo, hanging out and having adventures around the city.
Most of the humor that occurs in the film is based around the culture shock of Japan. One example During the commercial shoot, Bob is getting instructions in Japanese from the director in Japanese (and his instructions are not subtitled, so unless you speak Japanese, you are as lost as Bob is), and he gets a pithy translation. Here is the exchange:
Director [in Japanese, to Bob]: Mr. Bob. You are sitting quietly in your study. And then there is a bottle of Suntory whiskey on top of the table. You understand, right? With wholehearted feeling, slowly, look at the camera, tenderly, and as if you are meeting old friends, say the words. As if you are Bogie in Casablanca, saying, "Here's looking at you, kid," -- Suntory time!
Interpreter [In English, to Bob]: He wants you to turn, look in camera. O.K.?
Bob: Is that all he said?

Director and Screenwriter Sofia Coppola made very wise choices with this film. She never once falls into the romantic movie cliches. Bob and Charlotte's relationship is very much platonic. Sex between the two of them never comes up (it would be gross, considering Scarlett was only 18 when this movie was made). It is a relationship of understanding, of similar circumstances, and a connection that you may only make once in your life. The film deals more with concepts such as loneliness and relationships, and not being where you want to be in your life.

This is the role that Bill Murray will be remembered for. It was written with him in mind, according to Coppola. There is a lot of subtlety to his performance. He could very easily turn on his charm and crack jokes for the entire crew in Japan, but his body language suggests that he is tired and not willing to be Bob Harris, Hollywood star and life of the party anymore. Bob Harris was written with Bill Murray in mind, and Coppola has gone on record saying if he didn't sign on, she would not have made the film. Scarlett, at 18, does a great job exploring the nuances of being young and unsure of yourself. I think the phrase "wise beyond their years" is such a cliche, but it is appropriate here to describe her performance. Ribsi is in a supporting role, along with Anna Faris as a ditzy Hollywood actress, but they are both superb in the small amount of screentime they're given. Supposedly, they are based on Spike Jonze, Coppola's ex husband, and Cameron Diaz, though Coppola denies this.

Two more things help make this film enjoyable. First, the cinematography is absolutely stunning. It gives Tokyo a real dream like quality, especially at night. Secondly, the soundtrack, consisting of shoegaze artists like Death in Vegas, The Jesus and Mary Chain, and Kevin Shields, also adds to the dreamy effect, allowing the viewer to get lost in the movie.

Lost In Translation is one of those movies that needs to be watched in multiple sittings in order to appreciate it. It takes a while for it to unfold, but it is worth it in the end. It is one of those films that works best when watched alone, allowing you to think about life and what you want from it. If I recommend one film that everyone should watch, this it the one.

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