Lost In Translation

Bill Murray stars as an almost forgotten film star stuck in Tokyo shooting a whisky commercial. Friendless and unable to sleep, he spends his time alone in the hotel bar where he meets a young American woman marooned in the same hotel while her husband is off working. They appear to have little in common; he a star in his fifties, she an unemployed philosophy graduate, but they share an existential sadness. Against the bizarre, dizzying backdrop of night-time Tokyo, they begin an unusual romance.

Lost In Translation is touching and surprisingly funny. 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. A third of the film has passed before they meet, but the slowness of the narrative feels entirely appropriate, capturing the characters' insomnia and ennui, and giving their experiences of Tokyo a surreal, dream-like quality.

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Despite its indie credentials and languorous pace this, the second feature from Sofia Coppola, is, in some respects, a conventional romance, which therefore needs to convince us that the couple can't get together; only then can we be truly involved and surprised if and when they do.

Lost In Translation 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 them are consistently enthralling, loaded with tension and longing.

However, the film disappoints slightly with its condescending tone. Tokyo and its inhabitants are portrayed as tacky, childish and submissive, particularly in one unnecessary scene involving a Japanese prostitute. The film has even been accused of racism, but escapes this charge only through equally shallow portrayals of the other Americans, such as the juvenile husband (apparently based on Coppola's soon-to-be-ex husband Spike Jonze) and vacuous starlet (rumoured to be based on Cameron Diaz).

Still, these are minor reservations. Lost In Translation may well become one of the funniest, most moving films of the year and certain for recognition in the Oscar nominations.

Reviewed on: 08 Jan 2004
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Two lonely American tourists in Tokyo find solace in each other.
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Angus Wolfe Murray ****

Director: Sofia Coppola

Writer: Sofia Coppola

Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Akiko Takeshita, Kazuyoshi Minamimagoe, Kazuko Shibata, Take, Ryuichiro Baba, Akira Yamaguchi, Catherine Lambert, Fran├žois du Bois, Tim Leffman, Gregory Pekar, Richard Allen, Giovanni Ribisi, Diamond Yukai

Year: 2003

Runtime: 102 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US, Japan


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