Lost in Translation
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E
Lost in Translation Meandering and engaging, this artful examination of loneliness and regret catches us off guard with its insight and emotion. It's about two people abroad who discover a surprising solace in each other. Bob (Murray) is a big time movie star in Tokyo earning millions to advertise a Japanese malt whiskey, although he'd rather be acting for free in a small theatre anywhere else. Charlotte (Johansson) has travelled to Japan with her photographer husband (Ribisi) and is wondering why she came along ... and why she married him in the first place. Lurking in the hotel with nothing to do and unable to sleep because of both jet lag and their racing thoughts, these two lost and bored people find small adventures together, visiting bars and cafes, singing karaoke and generally misbehaving like a couple of kids. But something surprising is going on under the surface.

There's an almost ethereal rawness to this film that gets way under the skin; these are real people struggling in a foreign place with intensely internal issues. The dialog is breathtakingly natural--edgy, hesitant, sharp and often hilarious. And these two excellent actors give astonishingly transparent performances! Murray brings all his experience into this role as a tired but mischievous has-been, playing on his history hilariously then twisting it into something deeply poignant. For example, the karaoke sequence instantly reminds us of his hysterical SNL lounge singer ("Star Wars, Those near and far wars!"), then suddenly shifts into something bracingly powerful. Meanwhile, Johansson gives another warm, introspective turn as a young woman on the brink of her whole life, but without a clue where to go next. Writer-director Sofia Coppola shows that The Virgin Suicides was no fluke. Sure she's well connected (Francis' daughter and Spike Jonze's wife), but she's also seriously gifted at capturing the emotional essence of a story, pacing the action gorgeously and meaningfully putting characters and themes ahead of plot and structure. The unspoken longings in this film are remarkably moving. And if it drags a bit in the middle, at least it's doing so for a very good reason.

cert 15 adult themes and situations, language 15.Oct.03

dir-scr Sofia Coppola
with Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris, Akiko Takeshita, Catherine Lambert, Yutaka Tadokoro, Jun Maki, Fumihiro Hayashi, Hiroko Kawasaki, Nobuhiko Kitamura, Ryuichiro Baba
release US 3.Oct.03; UK 9.Jan.04
03/US 1h42

Turning Japanese: Murray and Johansson on the streets of Tokyo

murray johansson ribisi

23rd Shadows Awards
ACTRESS Johansson


R E A D E R   R E V I E W S
send your review to Shadows... Lost in Translation Dave Haviland, London: 4/5 "Bill Murray gives a laconic, understated performance as a man resigned to his own irrelevance. Scarlett Johansson is brave and beautiful as a young woman searching for her role in the world. The slowness of the narrative feels entirely appropriate, capturing the charactersí insomnia and ennui, and giving their experiences of Tokyo a surreal, dream-like quality. Despite its indie credentials and languorous pace this is in some respects a conventional romance which needs to convince us that the couple canít get together; only then can we be truly involved and surprised if and when they do. Sofia Coppola achieves this with two married characters, a thirty-year age gap and a downbeat style that seems to require a downbeat ending. As a result the scenes between the two are consistently enthralling and loaded with tension and longing. However the film disappoints slightly with its condescending tone. Still this is a minor reservation for one of the funniest, most moving films of the year." (30.Dec.03)

Laurie T, Minneapolis: 3/5 "We went to see this movie after all the Golden Globe nominations, and besides, I always have liked Bill Murray. After seeing this movie I can see what the fuss is about. I liked it! It is one of those movies that make you walk away thinking, what would I do in those circumstances? I would recommend seeing it before the Academy Awards - just to say yeah, I saw that. And I can see why everyone else likes it." (19.Feb.04) back to the top

S C A R L E T T   &   S O F I A   Q & A
Lost in Translation Bill Murray was inspired casting -- probably his his best role in years. Was he your first choice?
Sofia Coppola:
Yeah, actually I wrote with him in mind because Iíd always wanted to work with him. And to see him play a romantic lead, and also this combination of being really fun and sweet and the sadder, more tender side of him. That was one of the things when I was writing it. I just wanted to see this big American out of place in Tokyo and really to have both sides, the humour and the sadness.

How well do you understand the limbo situation, the jet-lag, the clashing of cultures, everything that goes with travelling to weird and wonderful places and ending up on your own?
Scarlett Johansson:
I heard Sofia had a hankering for a meeting, and I couldnít say no. So we met in a restaurant in New York and she basically explained to me that she had this idea that was shaping up into some script that it was definitely going to be with Bill Murray and if it wasnít Bill Murray then she wasnít going to do it. She said it would also take place in Tokyo, and this seemed like two very appealing things -- Bill Murray and Tokyo -- so I said, ďSend me the script when youíve finished it,Ē and sure enough, not that much later a little mini-script came, and I knew right after I finished reading it that it was a project I wanted to be a part of. It was such a beautiful, beautiful script. I had nothing to say about it really, everything was there. It was 75 pages, it was short, and a lot of it was visual, I mean the dialogue between Bill and I is pretty much: heíll have one line and Iíll have one line, like a ping-pong, and it just read so well, like a really great novel, and when I finished it I was happy and I was sad and I just knew, I knew I could play the part.

Sofia, how much of yourself is in the character that Scarlett plays?
coppola Sofia:
The whole story is personal to me and there is myself in Scarlettís character and Billís character. I definitely was thinking about that age when I was in my early twenties and not knowing what I wanted to do with work. I was just out of school and just that transition and in crisis a little bit. Iíd always been interested in this idea of a manís midlife crisis and this just seemed like the same thing -- two characters looking at the same questions. Also I like characters in JD Salinger stories where you have young preppie woman having this kind of existential breakdown and thereís something kind of funny and charming to me about that. So thereís definitely aspects of my experience. It was important for me to have control over it editing-wise and to make it exactly how I imagined. And the only way I could do that was to make it low-budget and do it on our own so we didnít have a boss telling us how to make it marketable or something. So we just chose to make it this way.

What did you like most and least about Tokyo?
Well I guess I had the Bob Harris (Bill Murray) experience! I was really tired the whole time I was there, and we were shooting a week of days, then a week of nights, then a week of days, and I felt very discombobulated while I was there. I was also staying at the Park Hyatt hotel while we were filming there, so it was a very surreal reality, going downstairs in my pyjamas for rehearsal and so on. It felt like fun for me, and the days I had off, which was just one day a week unfortunately, I just tried to do what everybody else was doing. Iíd go shopping and eat out and try to walk around but I couldnít even do anything that touristy because I was so involved in what we were doing. For whatever reason, nobody really spoke English very well in the hotel. There was a Swedish hotel manager, I guess he spoke pretty well. Oh and there were a couple of people there that knew how to say ďNo!Ē
Sofia: Iíve been going to Tokyo once a year for the last eight or nine years, and I love going -- itís an adventure. I still donít speak any Japanese. The language is just really intimidating to me. I think itís fun -- anything like going to get groceries becomes a big ordeal because you donít speak the same language. Working with the Japanese crew was definitely frustrating -- you have to be patient. But for me I always wanted to shoot in Tokyo and film what it was like for me there. And that excitement and enthusiasm kept me going. I still think itís overwhelming, you know. Itís crowded and really modern and thereíll be an ancient temple right next to this intersection and a hotel and the mixture of American and Japanese culture. I find it strange and wonderful.

The karaoke scene is great -- how much of it was planned?
Well for a start, Sofia wanted those particular songs and I had to learn all the words to Brass In Pocket. Even though the translation on the screen is really bizarre, some of itís just not at all the words, itís like funny, broken English. But other than the songs it was pretty much improvised.
Sofia: The idea was to kind of make it feel like that it was late at night, and theyíd had sake, and it was more shot as documentary. The Roxxy music song came out at the last minute.

Did any of you go to a karaoke bar in Japan?
We did, and we learned that Scarlett has an incredible singing voice.

Which song was your favourite to perform, Scarlett?
johansson Scarlett:
I do a really good Cher impression, I Believe.

So youíre a disco queen?
Only at night. And Bill was singing Mack the Knife, which was excellent.

And Miss Coppola?
I prefer to watch!

Do you have a favourite scene in the film?
I like the whole sequence with Bill and I in his bedroom. It starts off with us watching TV trivia and then pans over to the window and ends up with us lying on the bed and falling asleep. Itís so telling; itís really the one time when our characters are really honest. There are the jokes about his mid-life crisis: ďHave you bought your Porsche yet?Ē and so on, and I have that self-help tape, but itís the one moment where weíre trying to figure out exactly what it is thatís missing, and not just that but Bill really is so evasive. With my character Iíll say things like ďI really like youĒā and ďIíll miss youĒā and heís just like ďOKĒā and itís sort of the one moment where he really makes an effort to connect and I think itís really touching.
Sofia: Iím happy with the way that played. It had all the moments we wanted it to have. I like when he sings More Than This to her and the way she looks at him, in that one look. I totally get that feeling when someone starts to like someone.

Do you have any experience of Japanese commercials?
You canít walk down the street in Tokyo without some familiar Western movie star holding a drink. At the vending machines thereís the Brad Pitt coffee can. Itís just a part of being in Japan and itís just really odd. And for American actors itís a big-pay job -- they get tonnes of money for a dayís work and they think nobodyís going to see it. And all the Japanese people I know, they donít think itís cool. They donít think like, ďOh, cool, Brad Pitt!Ē They think itís cheesy. Itís funny because you probably think oh, itís Japanese culture theyíre all fascinated about stars coming over and being paid to endorse products they never use. So theyíre kind of laughing about that too. It was just trying to think of how to get Bill Murrayís character over to Japan, and having seen all those ads I thought, oh yeah. I wanted to do a real brand and I remember my dad showing me a still of Kurosawa, who did a Santori ad in the seventies. So I just thought, Iíll make it Santori. But itís not meant to be disrespectful.

Did you have any trouble with the authorities while filming?
We did have to move around on the subways a lot because security was coming and we had to get off and go on another train. It was sort of fun to shoot in that way though. It was just the three of us and the DP -- weíd sneak in and out and see an officer and go on another train. It was hectic at times and you canít get permission for certain things, but most of the time it was a fun way to work.
Scarlett: We could be pretty sneaky because nobody was ever looking at us.

back to the top

LONDON, JAN.04 (Special thanks to Elsa OíToole)

© 2003 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall