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Some people don't like it. For them it's not enough, somehow. Maybe it's too haphazard, too free from uproar and hysteria, too much like regular life. Maybe these are the people who feel that movies should be something far bigger than life--more like reality TV. For them, Lost in Translation is exactly that. That the Academy-Award-winning screenplay of Sofia Coppola hinges to some degree on an inaudible line might throw off viewers who like things to be simple and obvious.
Your friend Gooden tends to get grouchy, however, when a writer or director holds my hand too much. I don't want to see a family reunited knowing that I'm expected to cry. I like when a story ends before all plot lines are drawn to a close, like the final scene in Laurel Canyon where the protagonist sinks into the swimming pool, questions unanswered, or Memento where you leave the theater unsure what happened or countless other examples.
I like to reach the end of the film wondering about the characters in their world. Especially when I'm watching a DVD and I have time to look at the bonus features, which often adds fuel to my imagination's fire.
Lost in Translation is very subtle. There are several transcendent moments that tie back into the title without elbowing you in the side. Coppola's other work The Virgin Suicides stands in contrast. That film was heavy handed in all regards with broadly stereotyped characters doing things that were as predictable as they were melodramatic.
Obviously Coppola has matured as a writer. The uncanny Bill Murray shines as Bob Harris, an aging movie star well into the product-spokesperson phase of his career. He travels to Japan to film whiskey ads and finds himself sunk into deep loneliness. He does not like hobnobbing with the sundry Westerners who recognize him and around the Japanese majority in Japan, he is awkwardly blocked by linguistic and cultural barriers.
In the same hotel is Charlotte (the fetching Scarlett Johansson), new wife of an up-and-coming young photographer. She's come with him to Japan because she's just earned her philosophy degree from Yale and doesn't know what else to do with herself. Note that Johansson is a transparent, or at least translucent, doppelganger for Coppola herself, a young woman, born to a leisurely life, trying to find herself. Such is the woman we saw at the awards petulantly fidgeting with her Oscar.
Charlotte is clearly a brainy character. She takes herself by day into Japan to discover its mysteries and wonders. Nevertheless, she too is lonely with her husband gone most of the time. In a subtle moment, she glances at some polaroids of her husband and herself. In these photos, he is looking out of the picture at the camera, not at Charlotte. She notices this at a significant time, but the moment is simply what it is: no attention is called to the detail, and, in fact, the Mrs. didn't even notice it.
Both Bob and Charlotte are plagued with insomnia, and they take to drinking in the hotel bar. It isn't long before they meet and, charming as they both are, they start to hang out. They drink together and eventually have a nighttime adventure when Charlotte goes to visit a Japanese friend from college and Bob tags along. The all-night party takes them from place to place in a dizzying montage of Japan's hip cultural circles. At last, the two fall asleep only to repeat the adventure the following night.
The story sets up for a torrid love tryst between the young Charlotte and the mature Bob. In many movies, something explosive would have to occur, bringing sadness, regret, craziness, murder, or something to grip the "gimme-it-straight" type of audience member. But this isn't most movies. Both characters have their marriages, challenges and all, and Bob deftly sublimates the sexual tension.
The friendship, therefore, is very touching. The two teach one another very lovely and ephemeral lessons. I call this movie a classic because it has a sense of innocence and simplicity that I associate with golden-era films. There's an earnest attempt to portray several characters, two in the middle, with all their foibles. It's a film like this that one can enjoy like a good book. It can envelope you and change you with a soft touch. I look forward to Coppola's next work.
©2003 by Randy Shandis Enterprises. All rights happily reserved.