For some film fans, Sofia Coppola will always (and only) be remembered for ruining the third Godfather film, which was directed by her father, Francis Ford Coppola … well that’s nepotism for you and it serves him right … but luckily for her dignity, she dropped the acting hat and forged a very successful career in film directing and at one point was considered one of the hottest directors working in Hollywood. 2003’s Lost in Translation was her second full-length feature film and confirmed her as a serious writing and directing talent after her successful adaptation of The Virgin Suicides. But let’s just remind ourselves of her ruining The Godfather Part III:
Now that’s over with, let’s discuss this gem of a film. Lost in Translation stars the inimitable Bill Murray and – at that time – little known actress, Scarlett Johansson, in a vague comedy/vague love story/vague coming of age tale set in Tokyo. The plot follows young and recently married (to the always excellent Giovanni Ribisi) Johansson as she is left alone in Tokyo whilst her photographer husband works and flirts with Anna Faris. Whilst she roams the city and hotel she runs into Bill Murray who plays an aging actor who is selling out in Tokyo by doing a Whiskey commercial. Neither of them are happy, yet they learn to find happiness in the short, whirlwind friendship that flourishes within the hotel.
“Let's never come here again because it would never be as much fun.”
-Lost in Translation
Whilst the story had undercurrents of romance, it never becomes a romcom and there are never any sexual shenanigans between the seventeen-year-old Johansson and the fifty-three-year-old Murray. This is where the story gets its heart; in never needing to rely on genre conventions, the film becomes truly unique and one that will defy your expectations and keep you smiling till the film’s delightfully ambiguous climax.
The film is unlike most other high-profile American movies, in that it is slow going. The film doesn’t have a lot of pace to it, and whilst I enjoyed it on my first viewing, it took until I watched it for a second time to realise the brilliance of the slower pace. The film never rushes you along to its conclusions, but instead lets you wander around one of the most incredible cities in the world with our characters and absorb it all along with them. They need time to find themselves … and in the process, you may just find yourself, too … (sorry, should have included a ‘cheesy line alert’).
I do feel it is my duty to tell you that there is something wrong with the film though. Even though it is excellent and artistically charming, the film has a Japanese problem. Due to one of the main themes of the film being that of feeling ‘lost’ both metaphorically and literally (which is most obvious in the translation issues the American characters have when interacting with the Japanese characters) the film borders on racist. Because it desires to show the Japanese and the Americans at two opposite ends of the spectrum, it portrays the Americans as cool, suave, and sophisticated; and the Japanese as raving loonies, which reinforces the ill-founded Americanised stereotype that all Japanese people are bonkers. It reduces the majority of the Japanese characters to cartoon caricatures and it can at times make the viewing slightly uneasy (although there are some characters that more closely capture Japanese people and their culture, so it’s not all bad).
Charlotte: “I just don’t know what I want to be.”
Bob: “You’ll figure that out. The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.”
-Lost in Translation
The Japanese problem aside, the film is truly beautiful and should be enjoyed by anyone, especially if you’ve ever felt a bit lost in life and never really known what route to take.