You can talk about Bill Murray's mid life crisis and Scarlett Johansson's underwear and the buzz of being in Tokyo after dark when the city is a light show and think you understand it all, the sexual undertones, the foreigners in a foreign field, the luxury of Western privilege, the loneliness of the long distance traveller, the American wife asking over the phone: "Do I have to worry about you, Bob?" and Bob saying: "Only if you want to," the knowledge that to be alive now, in this minute, is to feel lost.

Sofia Coppola's second film after The Virgin Suicides makes no concessions to Hollywood protocol. It was shot entirely on location in Japan and is dealing with something studio bosses would pay money to avoid, namely unrequited and confused emotions. The pace may be slow, but the feelings are racing.

Copy picture

Bob Harris - no, not "Whispering" Bob - is in Tokyo to make a whisky commercial. Being an international movie star, known for action pictures, Murray (Ghostbusters, Groundhog Day) is hardly in the Sean Connery mould. His bloodhound eyes and moon rock complexion cast him in the grunge pit, with veterans of broken dreams, and yet the sensitivity and subtlety he conveys here cannot be overemphasised.

Charlotte (Johansson) is in her early twenties, recently graduated from Yale and married for the last two years to an ambitious photographer (Giovanni Ribisi), at present on a Japanese assignment. As the wife who waits, she has nothing to do but sit in the window of her highrise hotel room, gazing across the city, or wander the streets like a tourist.

"I'm stuck," she tells Bob. "Does it get any easier?"

Their friendship has been beautifully constructed by Coppola, whose script is a model of understatement. With her cameras, she captures the otherness of Tokyo's faux Vegas razzle, contrasted with a spiritual stillness Charlotte finds intriguing.

This is the story of a moment in two people's lives that has powerful, unspoken importance.

"The more you know yourself and know what you want, the less things upset you," Bob says.

Charlotte smiles.

It's easier to say than to do. The hard part is knowing when to let go.

Reviewed on: 08 Jan 2004
Share this with others on...
Lost In Translation packshot
Two lonely American tourists in Tokyo find solace in each other.
Amazon link

Read more Lost In Translation reviews:

David Haviland ****

Festivals:


Search database: