Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Lost In Translation

At the weekend I went to see Lost in Translation, the new film by Sophia Coppola, which was recently nominated for a number of acadamy awards. I saw it in Shibuya, the only cinema in Tokyo currently showing it, where some of the scenes were filmed.

The film begins with Bob Harris(Bill Murray), a washed up actor from the 1970s, who has arrived in Tokyo to film a whisky commercial, for two million dollars. He's a man who seems tired with life, a man who feels drained. He's been married twenty five years, which obviously no longer fulfils him. When he receives trivial faxes and parcels containing samples of carpet for his new study from his wife, his reaction is one of apathy. The conversations he has with his wife are stilted and he no longer connects with her. He's obviously in the throes of having a mid life crisis.

The filming of the commercials doesn't go very smoothly. Problems in translation mean that the shoots are somewhat difficult and not without problems because of the confusion. He even gets shouted at by the Japanese director because he doesn't know what the director wants.

On top of this he can't sleep because of his jet-lag, so he spends his time in the bar of the Tokyo Park Hyatt. It's here that he first meets Charlotte, played by Scarlett Johansson.

Charlotte is in Tokyo with her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi). He spends his time on shoots leaving Charlotte on her own. She too feels unhappy and at one point on the phone to a friend blurts out that she doen't know the man she's married. She's twenty five and doesn't yet know what she wants to be. She's a Yale graduate and she's tried her hand at photography and writing, but without success.

Abandoned she tries finding comfort in more spiritual things like going to a Buddhist temple and self help tapes, but unfortunately she doesn't find it.

It's only when they meet that both they and Tokyo suddenly become alive. It's then that the two lost souls embark on their adventure of Tokyo and they visit lots of places including bars, a strip joint and karaoke. Their relationship is not one about one about sex, but one about finding something in common within each other that they don't have in their everyday lives.

The underlying theme of the film is about loneliness. Coppola has used the disorientation and culture shock you can feel when arriving in Tokyo as a backdrop to help emphasise this to brilliant effect. A lot of the humour comes from the problems that the lead characters encounter from being in an alien culture and how they deal with it.

The quality of the acting from the leads is flawless and I think Bill Murray should definitely have recieved an Oscar for what is a career best performance. Although he plays a flawed and cynical character, he keeps us emotionally involved at all times with a very touching performance and he brings a lot of sympathy to the character, something that a lesser comedic actor would not have been able to accomplish.

Scarlett Johansson also gives a wonderfully mature performance playing a character older than her actual years. It is testament to both actors that even though there is a vast age gap between them and that their characters are married, that not once do we feel uncomfortable with their relationship.

The film definitely captures the distinct flavour and atmosphere of Japan for a new arrival from a western country. I was definitely able to relate to many aspects of the film. Coppola was a frequent visitor to Japan in her early twenties and her love and knowledge of Japan has definitely helped to create in my eyes what is a near perfect film.

here for the official movie website.