The city of Tokyo is foreign and alien to it’s visitors.
It’s inhabitants speak in a different language and when it gets translated, the meaning gets lost.
Bob Harris (Played by Bill Murray) is an aging movie star arrives at Tokyo to film an advertisement for Suntory Whisky. Amidst this alien city of Tokyo, Harris’s own feeling of alienation and detachment from his personal life and relationships become more apparent. Another woman who has come to Tokyo; Charlotte, (Played by Scarlet Johansson) a young college graduate. Her husband, John (Giovanni Ribisi) a celebrity photographer who has come to Japan to work, leaves her alone in the hotel room.
She too, starts to doubt her relationship with her husband.
The two troubled people meet and soon they start to develop a bond.
In this film written and directed by Sophia Coppola, the city of Tokyo is not just a mere setting and background in which the events occur upon but it is essential to the film’s themes and overall mood. Pillow shots of the city of Tokyo are used in between scenes, and while such shots are not used as frequently as Yasujiro Ozu; the master himself, they are essential and pivotal to the film’s overall mood.
They create a serene, peaceful and poetic atmosphere to the film which inspires existential thought in the viewer, the same as what Bob Harris and Charlotte are experiencing in Tokyo.
Though opposing Ozu, who likes his shots steady and usually from a low angle, Lost in Translation employs a documentary style of cinematography, often favoring a slightly shaky camera. By doing so, the film rid itself of the smooth and overly slick cinematography of typical Hollywood films and instead goes for a much more realistic approach.
It also helps that the characters within the film are very believable as human beings.The characters in the film are people. Bob Harris has a wife, children. We never see them in person, but they exist, the wife calls him once in a while, seemingly unloving and uncaring just like any typical marriage that has lasted for 25 years, after the novelty of marriage and love are gone, a dull sense of familiarity lurks over.
Charlotte, the young collage woman calls her friend with a phone in the hotel room, she cries. “I don’t know who I married anymore.” She says. Her husband John leaves for work, leaving her alone. If she follows him; he works but she won’t enjoy it.
The film does have some drama but it is highly subdued, the two titular characters at one point in the film become mad at each other. Yet, time heals all wounds. The drama is never overly dramatic like in a soap – opera, it feels real.
The characters here don’t make big statements about life, they simply exist within the constraints of modern society. It is through looking into their lives and not listening to their dialogue or any dramatic or pitiful plots do we understand what the characters are going through and what the film’s themes are about.
Now, after all that I have said, you wouldn’t think that the film was also a comedy.
But it is.
The scene where Bob Harris shoots the commercial for Suntory Whisky is hilarious, the Japanese director seems to go on for a ramble and the translator gives Harris the most simplified of simplified translations. A literal nod to the title of the film: Lost in Translation. Here, the meaning is literally lost through translation.
Much can be said about Lost in Translation, but all that has been said has probably already been said. The film has a 95% on rotten tomatoes and a 4/4 rating from Roger Ebert who has put the film in his list of ‘Great Movies.’ While it isn’t exactly the most complex film or the most stylized film out there, it certainly accomplishes what it sets out to do and it does it extremely well. Perhaps after watching this love affair between two lonesome strangers, you too would start to ponder about the existential qualities of life.
Lost In Translation is an excellent film. I also highly recommend this film for beginners in the art – house scene for film. This is a great film to first watch before moving to other more unconventional films.