Never before have I seen a film whose title embodied it more than Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation. I did not know what to expect when I chose this film on Netflix’s Instant Queue but what I found was an oddly comedic tale of friendship and finding yourself. This film came out in 2003 and after seeing it, I am very upset I waited so long to finally have a chance to enjoy it.
This film had an amazing amount of levels to it but to strip everything away and look at the story, this film is about two individuals trying to cope with their own feelings of uselessness. Scarlett Johansson plays Charlotte, a neglected wife in Tokyo with her photographer husband John (Giovanni Ribisi). Charlotte is an insomniac that seems to be desperately searching for a purpose in her marriage and in her life. Bill Murray plays Bob Harris, a movie star fading from the public eye who is also searching for his own sense of purpose. Staying at the same hotel for over a week, the two eventually meet and form one of the oddest friendships to ever be put on the big screen. For a while I though Bob and Charlotte were falling in love and in some sense they were, but not in the way most main characters fall in love in films. When Bob and Charlotte found each other they found something more than just a best friend, they found somebody that understood what it meant to be lost in translation.
Both Bob and Charlotte have lost their purpose in life. Bob is clearly a fading a movie star, hence his decision to do a Japanese commercial for whiskey. Bob is beginning to realize that he has alienated himself from his family with his extended absences from home. His family has not necessarily abandoned him, they have just made it very clear that they no longer necessitate his presence. No matter how many times he tries to call and talk to them he never gets to talk to his children, though his wife tells him they miss him, and he only talks to his wife about useless things like carpet patterns and paint colors. Bob needs somebody to understand how bad he is hurting and his wife only seems to be trying to distance herself from him. Charlotte feels alone, though she is in Tokyo with her husband. Having trouble finding meaningful things to fill her life with, Charlotte is married to a man that seems to be married to his job. Always leaving her alone and always seeming to be focused on something else, Charlotte’s husband doesn’t seem to know what to do with Charlotte when all Charlotte needs is somebody to spend time with her doing things that she likes and feels passionate about. Both Bob and Charlotte are lost in translation, stuck in situations where the person who is supposed to understand them most can’t. That is why the two form such a strong bond when they meet and explore Tokyo together.
Beyond the brilliant story of two people helping each other simply exist; Lost in Translation also takes a close look at the fascinating construct that is Japanese culture. Filmed from the point of view of two Americans trying to traverse the culture, the film mainly highlight the whimsical ridiculousness that we seem to think exists in Japan. By focusing on entertainment aspects of the culture, such as talk shows, casinos and bars, director Coppola shows the drastic differences between our culture and the Japanese culture. Though she focuses on the aspects of the culture that we would consider to be out of the ordinary, Coppola juxtaposes those scenes with a few emphasizing the absolute beauty of the culture. It is mainly Charlotte that gets to experience the beauty of Japan, as she visits temples and shrines during the film. Showing the two extremes of the culture, the ridiculous and hilarious versus the calm and beautiful, showed the complexity of the Japanese culture.
For some reason I can’t put my finger on, I want to call this film beautiful. The main characters are depressing, hilarious and hopefully all at the same time, allowing us to connect with the idea of being lost in translation. Throughout the film, the only people I really felt I understood were Bob and Charlotte. Expertly using the camera to make the audience feel lost in translation, Coppola introduces the audience to world that not many are familiar with, showing us the absolute joy and confusion that comes along with visiting it. I give this film a 9.5 out of 10 and urge any Netflix user to carve some time out of your schedule to watch it.