Lost In Translation is a film that has been recommended to me by Netflix as something I may enjoy, and coupled with the positive reviews I had read online, I decided it was probably about time that I gave it a watch. I didn’t really form any expectations – in terms of genre or tone – going into my watching, as I had no real knowledge of the plot. The only thing I expected was a very good and thoughtful viewing experience, and whilst it was thought inducing, I wasn’t overly keen on the film as a whole.
The film sees actor, Bob Harris (Bill Murray), arrive in Japan ahead of a photo shoot for a whiskey company’s new commercial. Bob’s career has clearly taken a turn for the worse and he appears a jaded and lost individual. Staying in the same hotel as Bob is a young, neglected, newlywed named Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), who also finds herself on a similar soul searching journey. She is in Japan with her husband John (Giovanni Ribisi), who is an aspiring photographer. When John has to leave town for the week to pursue his career elsewhere, Charlotte and Bob form an unlikely bond as two lost souls who are forced to tackle the overwhelming concrete jungle that is Tokyo.
Whilst I didn’t enjoy the film as much as I had hoped, I completely understand the message that Coppola was trying to portray through this film. Simply, this is a film about two individuals who find a foreign culture so alien and can only find solace within one another. Bob and Charlotte experience such a spectrum of different aspects of Japanese culture and we are there every step of the way. The way the film is shot makes this journey completely overpowering, similar to the effect it has on the characters; it’s simply too much to take in all at once. I thought that aspect of the film was very clever as it made us sympathise wholly with the two protagonists. However, this is more than a story of just two people struggling to understand Japanese culture. This film examines the intricacies of loneliness and the completely disorientating effect it has on a person. It really is quite a sad tale, but it’s not a message that I fully understood or appreciated by watching this film. Maybe it would ring truer to someone who knows what life on the road is like, but I personally didn’t get that sense of hopelessness that I was promised. I understood the message loud and clear, I just couldn’t translate it. Maybe that’s the point…
However, the performances are very good. Murray looks at ease as the middle-aged, exasperated man, both physically and emotionally (not sure if that’s a compliment or not) and he was really convincing as a man completely lost in a midlife crisis, complete a with fluorescent camouflage t-shirt. He is adequately entertaining throughout, but never raised more than a brief smile if I’m honest. Scarlett Johansson also shines as a more unnerved and subdued character than the lycra-clad, strong female hero we’re used to seeing her play nowadays. She displays a sense of fragility alongside her undoubtedly alluring aura and I think I understood her more as a character than her onscreen partner. Their chemistry as a duo was compelling, although I found the scenario to be somewhat far-fetched, again this may be due to my own naivety. I enjoyed watching their friendship build, but I thought it was a bridge too far when the relationship began to take a more romantic path. So, whilst I enjoyed the performances I was also left a little flummoxed by their intertwining narrative arcs.
I really do appreciate films that go out of their way to delicately portray a message that I may not have considered before, and in that respect I have the upmost admiration for what this film was trying to achieve. But there was just something missing for me, and annoyingly, I can’t really put my finger on what it was; ‘Lost In Translation’ just didn’t hit the high notes that I really wanted it to. I would suggest seeing it once, as other people have been moved by it more than I have, and there is no question that this is a good film, but I’m afraid it was a little lost on me.
Director: Sofia Coppola
Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi