Written by Sofia Coppola
Directed by Sofia Coppola
No one knows for sure what triggers a mid-life crisis. There just comes a point in someone’s life when they look upon what they’ve done with their life and suddenly they aren’t satisfied. In women, it often happens younger than men and has more to do with missing the emotional connection that drew her to her mate in the first place (trust me on this one, I am there right now). For men, it can be the appearance of a gray hair that suddenly triggers the need to prove they can still knock ‘em dead, and suddenly the wife is left trying to mop up the pieces of their lives and make some sense of it all to the kids while he drives off in his new Porsche with a 20-something blonde by his side.
In Lost in Translation, Bill Murray is Bob Harris, an aging Hollywood icon who is dabbling in commercials in a foreign land – Japan – for which he will be paid an ungodly sum of money. While there he meets Charlotte (portrayed by Scarlett Johansson), the wife of a celebrated photographer who’s tagged along on his latest assignment. She is panicking over discovering that she has less in common with the man she married than she once believed, an all-too-common occurrence in women who focus too much on the wedding and too little on the marriage.
Their loneliness in their relationships as well as their loneliness in the culture as they are surrounded by thousands of people with whom they can have only the smallest of conversations propel them together. Charlotte recognizes Bob’s attention for what it is, but that doesn’t stop her from enjoying it. In Bob’s case, Charlotte is a breath of fresh air from the endless faxes and Fedex packages from his wife, who is probably just trying to keep him in touch with home and doesn’t realize how stifling her behavior really is.
Sofia Coppola wrote and directed Lost in Translation and by keeping such tight control has managed to produce a movie that conveys the story in the subtlest of ways. Through all of the visual and audio noise of Tokyo, the most profound moments are the quiet moments these two people share with stilted conversations. There are no deep, moving speeches, but short bits of conversation that say so much by saying so little. Bob never tries to justify his interest in Charlotte or say anything against his wife. In a short conversation where Charlotte is picking his brain as she’s trying to figure out what to do with her own life before children become involved, his answer says more than would a fifteen minute speech in the mouth of many other actors.
In the special features, Coppola states that she wrote the part with Bill Murray in mind and doesn’t know if she would have done the film if she couldn’t have gotten him. The moments of fun are as subtle as the rest of the film, with the possibly exception of “Matthews Best Hit TV” spot, although his performance there is the same, it’s just the situation he’s in that is filled with lots of in-your-face moments and noise. Murray’s Bob Harris is wandering through it all wondering why he’s here.
The “why” of course is Charlotte. The connection they’ve made entices him to extend his stay, although not for sexual reasons. Sex between them would muddy the picture and they’ve connected on a much more intimate level. Johansson really does a tremendous job opposite Murray and holds her own with him quite well. She conveys all of her struggles with the same subtlety Murray presents and wan smiles. When presented with a Hollywood starlet whom her husband has deemed “cool”, she’s wondering what her husband sees in her if that’s the standard she’s being judged by. Yet, she doesn’t say anything in that direction, it’s just a few short comments and her body language and facial tones that conveyed this. It’s not really jealousy, but more of a soul-searching moment where she’s wondering if they should truly be together.
The visuals around Tokyo are stunning. Coppola took shots that frame the feeling of being in a different world, such as Charlotte staring out at the city through the window of her high-rise hotel. The view is stunningly beautiful, contrasted by the troubled confusion on Charlotte’s face. Murray is shown playing golf in the shadow of Mt. Fuji. The Japanese version of Times Square is just as stunningly bright and confusing as the one in New York. The interior shots are handled great as well. Clubs with various forms of lighting and a moment where digital fireworks are displayed on balloons all manage add visual noise to the quietest of stories, and do it well.
The Special Features on the DVD are Lost on Location which is a sort of video diary about filming the movie in Japan. It goes day by day showing the shooting process. I didn’t find it that interesting, but anyone who’s into filmmaking probably would.
Sofia Coppola shot a much longer piece of Matthew’s Best Hit TV, which is apparently quite big in Japan. This is the television show in which Bill Murray’s character appears on during the film. The entire piece is here to view.
Kevin Shields’ City Girl music video is there with a backdrop of Tokyo that is stunning. The shots were all quite beautiful.
There are Deleted Scenes, most of which weren’t entire scenes missing, but scenes that had been shortened probably for running time. The only one that really stood out to me were the scenes of Kelly’s press conference. She’s the vapid, young Hollywood starlet. Coppola filmed quite a long press conference and then seems to have chosen a certain moment from it to demonstrate to contrasts between Bill Murray’s Bob Harris and the Hollywood of the seventies versus the newer offerings. The longer piece gives a greater sense of this, but would definitely make that part of the film drag.
A Conversation with Bill Murray and Sofia Coppola is about a ten minute long interview with the two of them, along with some clips of them working on the film. It’s a nice insight into what went on without being too long. Also included on the disc is the Theatrical Trailer.
In the end, this is a film that many people will take away different things from. I could sympathize with both characters a great deal, and truly enjoyed Murray’s performance. I’ll be disappointed if he doesn’t get the Oscar for it, as Hollywood seems to enjoy rewarding veteran actors with a great body of work, and Murray deserves it for this role.