review by Zach B.
MPAA Rating: R (Some Sexual Content)
Running Time: 102 minutes
Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris, Fumihiro Hayashi
Written and Directed by: Sofia Coppola
Retail Price: $26.98
Features: "Lost" On Location, A Conversation with Bill Murray and Sofia Coppola, Kevin Shields "City Girl" Music Video, Matthew's Best Hit TV, Deleted Scenes, Theatrical Trailer
Specs: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Scenes (24 Scenes)
Released: February 3rd, 2004
I had only heard about "Lost In Translation" a few weeks before it came out in theaters, but what I was hearing gave me a lot of reasons to become excited. For one, I am a big fan of Bill Murray and it seemed like the film would play to his brilliant comic side as well as his subtle but somewhat underrated dramatic side. I was also curious in what would come next from Sofia Coppola, who's first film - the screen adaptation of the book "The Virgin Suicides - polarized audiences. And finally, I absolutely love Japanese culture. It seemed like this was going to be the perfect film for me.
As the release date came closer, my anticipation for "Lost In Translation" grew even stronger. Rave reviews began to pour in and while I read some, I really tried to ignore them. What happens to me usually is that I tend to overhype myself on certain films, as I become so drawn in by heavy buzz and the hype that comes with it that I am usually let down by the final product. While I do admit to getting myself hyped to some degree, I did not go overboard. With that said, I was ultimately disappointed by "Lost In Translation." The movie did not meet my expectations and wasn't as great as I was hoping it would be, but it still delivered on some level.
The plot to "Lost In Translation" is rather loose, though I'm sure some of you would be willing to argue there is no real plot at all. Right off the bat we meet Bob Harris (Bill Murray) - an aging American movie star who has come to Tokyo to film a whiskey ad for 2 million dollars. Bob is a stranger in a strange land (at least through his eyes). He is a bit uncomfortable in his surroundings and all that he seems interested in is doing his work and leaving. Bob is suffering personally though, as his home life isn't what it used to be.
Meanwhile, in the same hotel Bob is staying at, there is Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) - the young wife of a busy photographer (Giovanni Ribisi) on assignment. Constantly being left behind by her husband, Charlotte feels all alone and her marriage. As a Yale graduate who majored in philosophy, Charlotte also begins to question her purpose in the world and her life. But things change when Charlotte meets Bob in the hotel bar, and the two start having their own adventures and form a very unique connection. Each one transforms the other and they take a journey neither of them ever expected, all in an unlikely place. But all good things must come to an end... right?
It's true that "Lost In Translation" is mainly a plotless film, as it is essentially a character piece of two lonely and seemingly different souls who meet and form a brief friendship. But I see the emphasis on characters over a typical narrative as a strength; not a weakness. The relationship Bob and Charlotte make is weighed heavily, and given the film's time span and what it ultimately consists of, it does push things forward. They ARE the film.
It seems many who disliked the movie tend to use the phrase "boring," but I must disagree. While the film does have a plodding nature at points, I don't think many audiences who've seen the film are used to non-traditional narratives. This is an art house film that broke out big after all since buzz was strong and soon everybody had to see it. Not to sound incredibly harsh, but I think this film wasn't what mainstream audiences were expecting. I'm sure there are those who would rather have an emphasis on straightforward action over characters, and who probably wanted typical romantic-comedy fare. But that is not "Lost In Translation" - it doesn't even come close. The film is much smarter and deeper than that. For those who thought that "nothing happens" in this movie, I urge you to watch it again and pay closer attention.
What I believe is the film's biggest asset is how Coppola develops her characters and how she constitutes their unique relationship. We do learn about the two protagonists little by little, and details emerge here and there. While the characters are interesting and form well, I think there could have been even more history and nuances to them. But more importantly is that Coppola avoids dark territory with her leads - the area that moviegoers tend to expect. She never once crosses the line, let alone considers it. The mutual attraction between Bob and Charlotte is obvious, but they never give in. This works beautifully and remarkably. The focus is kept on these two throughout the film, and Coppola makes it seem so organic and simple that two different people from two different age brackets can have a relationship that doesn't end up resorting to the obvious and end up learning important things from one another. This helps the film immensely, and really makes it what it is - about the power of friendship, especially in random places where we least expect it.
For me though, I found the best part of the film to be its now famous ending. I'm sure you all know it by now, but I still refuse to ruin it completely. The ending is intriguing and perfectly fitting, but it is ultimately priceless. It is all bittersweet, just like the film's story arc. In a respect, things come full circle but the ending highlights what the film was all about: those two characters coming together, and sharing their own private goodbye. Only here does Coppola hint at the two's underlying passion. It is a climatic, inspiring scene. And as The Jesus & Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey" begins to play after, something tends to kick in. The story is ultimately sweet and endearing, and while there is melancholy, there is something rather uplifting that can be applied for the long run of things.
But as great as all of that is, my main problem with Coppola's script stems from the fact she never quite reaches a balance. The film is about two strangers cut off from the world making a connection, and while Coppola does a very good job of that, there could have been a lot more to it. The film is ultimately subtle, but there never seems to be enough of something. There are plenty of good moments within the film, but there are some random and pointless ones too. The humor, while funny (mainly due to Murray I believe), is spaced out a little bit too much and personally, I never found to be gut-busting. More disappointing to me though was the drama. The film has it, but I was expecting more of it. The connection and similar problems Bob and Charlotte have are there, but I felt the film could have done more to justify their relationship and how they connect. There are only a handful of scenes where the two talk about life and love, whereas I think there should have been a lot more. More of this would have given further hindsight into why the two connected and could have brought further insight. As mentioned, much of the film is not quite direct, and while that works, more emphasis on the character's discussions, thoughts and how they relate to each other could have added a more perfect drama, and made this film a bit more special so that it could ultimately reach (in what I think) its true potential.
If there's one thing Coppola does prove though, she certainly can direct a movie and in some ways, takes after her famous father. Coppola's original concept is brought to life rather directly. Her vision is quiet, personal and rather elegant. Working with Lance Accord, there is some wondrous cinematography to behold - the neon lights, the tall buildings and general atmosphere in Tokyo. The duo really nail the perspective of what it's like to be in Japan as an outsider through the visuals. On two different notes though, the score from Kevin Shields is moody, evokes the characters and is just great. Also, I don't understand why this film is rated R - it should have definitely been PG-13. It's not overly sexual, nor there is any bad language to really speak of (well, unless you count that Peaches song playing in the background during a scene).
There has been some controversy with this movie, as some have found it a bit racist. I personally disagree, and I also believe it was never Sofia Coppola's intention to create some kind of animosity. Some argue that the film pokes fun at the Japanese (particularly in how they get the sounds of Ls and Rs mixed up), but I don't think it was meant to be hurtful. It was simply meant as an add-on to the focus of Americans being in a different country, and how there is a little bit of culture clashing going on which brings forth further isolation and confusion. If Coppola set the film in another foreign country, I'm pretty sure she would have been using that country's customs and traditions as a backdrop for the characters to become bewildered by. I don't think Coppola has done anything mean-spirited and I don't think any of it should be taken personally.
There's also been some talk in why this film is called "Lost In Translation." Even though there's only a few instances when the characters literally get lost in translation when communicating with Japanese people, I'm sure you can consider the title a metaphor for communicating as a whole - particularly in relationships. Sometimes we think we know someone and what they are saying, but as a relationship progresses, needs and ideas become different and alas, we become lost and connections fall apart from there. I don't think I need to tell any of you that communicating just is probably most important thing in any relationship. If two people speak the same language and vie to understand one another, things usually are pretty smooth. Otherwise, when things shift and no effort is made, people are more or less speaking much different languages.
The acting in the movie is incredibly strong and truly makes Coppola's story come to life, as the performers bring depth and make the story more believable and intriguing. The film is essentially Bill Murray's show, and not only will this go down as one of his most memorable performances, but quite simply one of his, if not the, absolute best. While I and many others have noticed and loved Murray's dramatic turns for years in such films as "The Razor's Edge" and "Rushmore" (the latter should have scored him an Oscar nomination), it seems to me that Murray's portrayal of Bob Harris has finally made a larger part of the public take his dramatic acting much more seriously and finally realize what many have known all along. This really is the role of a lifetime for Murray, since it combines the best of both worlds: it showcases how great he is in more serious roles, but some of the greatest moments come from his wry comic bits and one-liners. Murray is in-touch with his character. Despite the deadpan wit, Murray's is subversive and subtle in the role: it's hard not to notice his underlying sadness, the desperation in his face and how the softness of his voice tells so much about his thoughts. Murray is nothing short of brilliant, and it's nice to see him getting the recognition he deserves.
As great as Murray is, Scarlett Johansson should not be uncounted for. Even though she's had a strong resume before this movie, this is a breakout role for the talented young actress. Johansson is graceful, exuberant and acts wise beyond her years. Like Murray, she easily brings across her own sadness and loneliness, but she plays off of him flawlessly. If it weren't for her, the film may not have worked as well since she shares such a natural rapport with her older co-star. This rapport adds even more realism to the film since it's easy to believe there is a true connection going on. Supporting roles from Anna Farris (who's hilarious) and Giovanni Ribisi are simply excellent - it's a shame you really don't see much more of them though (then again, I think that kind of is the point).
I liked "Lost In Translation" but I didn't love it - even though I really wanted to. I still find it a hard movie to put in words since it is so filled with emotion and a strong sense of life, but I didn't think the movie was all that it was cracked up to be. I can see why so many audiences love this movie and what made them embrace it so fully, and while I loved the film's premise, I thought there could have been a little more to the characters and film's overall thematics. "Lost In Translation" is a movie that I don't think everybody will appreciate or necessarily understand. Even though I felt the film fell short of its amazing potential, there is a lot to discover within it - and that alone makes it a trip worth taking.
Being released in seperate widescreen and full screen versions, the former should be the way to go. With a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, it's the way the film's visuals were meant to be seen and should be seen. Coppola hired Lance Accord as her director of photography (a cohort on her ex-husband's films) and he captured some beautiful shots of Tokyo that were pleasing to the eye and fit nicely in the context of the story. Those shots are not cropped down in the transfer and are still breathtaking in some way, so it's good that they are faithfully produced on the transfer.
The image is a bit soft, and it is also pretty grainy at the start but clears up to a major extent as the film moves on. It is a low-budget film and the softness is okay, as it extends into some of the film's dreamlike quality. There are some blemishes on the print, and there is noise and edge halos at times. Edge enhancment is also a little bit of a problem. But the fleshtones look great, detail is amazing, black levels are solid and the variety and pureness of the color saturation - such as the modest colors of the hotel to the bright lights of the Tokyo streets - more than make up for the flaws. A worthy, fantastic transfer.
The real treat here is that the film has 5.1 English tracks in Dolby Digital and DTS, and both are terrific. Each track creates a subtle but submersive ambiance that gets the vast but integral sounds of the film just right. Fidelity is rather high and the dynamics of each track are strong. There are a lot of conversations in the film and all the dialogue is crisp, not distorted and can be heard with ease. Obviously, the surrounds in the film are not bombastic but are on a much smaller level. Still, they do bring you in - be it the Japanese subways, the video arcade, the clicks of a camera or the crowds at the hotel bar. The scale is smaller, but there is a sense of intimacy that draws the viewer in. The film's music also fills the channels lavishly in each track, also bringing you more into Japan through the eyes of Bob and Charlotte. Given the choice, I would go with the DTS since it provides a slightly tighter sound and ultimately richer experience. Each track brings across the film in a very gentle but powerful manner. Also included is a French Dolby Digital 5.1 track, Eng,lish closed captions and subtitles in English and Spanish (no Japanese language or subtitle tracks? what's with that?).
The two big extras here are the featurettes. The first, "Lost" On Location, is a half-hour piece on the making of the film. It's not your standard PR fluff, but rather, first hand accounts capturing every little moment with video cameras and then edited down into something more managable. It's impossible for me to resist these video-diaries, since they're intimate, spur-of-the-moment and really don't have any BS in them. And while there are a lot of interesting moments in this one, it's a bit abrupt and uneven. It starts with Coppola and co-producer Ross Katz doing pre-production in Japan, and then most of this diary focuses on the first week of shooting, and then there is some bits on the second and third week of shooting - and that's it (what about the other weeks? was there a wrap party?). I would have liked for some more closure and more bits with some of the other actors besides Murray, but there's still some nice little bits here: Coppola extending her family tradition of what they do before the first shot of the film, Murray overusing a book with ridiculous Japanese phrases, getting the hard shots and a few minor setbacks (such as a major approaching typhoon). It's nice, but I think this needed more of the shoot and could have been longer.
The second featurette is A Conversation with Bill Murray and Sofia Coppola. Shot on a rooftop in Rome on October 19th, 2003 the two discuss elements what made up the film - such as the costume designer, the hair and make-up artist, cinematographer Lance Accord (among others) and also the story. It's interesting to watch and the two give nice insights and thoughts on the production and overall story - Murray is particuarly candid on a vital scene in the film. Like the first featurette, it could have been longer - this lasts a bit under ten minutes. It's also very slight - there are worthy moments in here, but there's a sense more could have been - and was going to be tapped into. It's in non-anamorphic widescreen which is a shame - if studios are going to produce supplements in a widescreen aspect ratio, it'd be nice if they made them anamorphic too.
Matthew's Best Hit TV is the complete five minute segment of Murray appearing on that wacky Japanese show in the movie (only a few bits are shown within the film) - it's strange, but definitely amusing and worth a watch. There are also five Deleted Scenes, but many are extensions. Totaling ten-and-a-half minutes and in non-anamorphic widescreen (with timecodes), most of these would have added a bit more humor and little moments but weren't really needed. However, "Kelly's Press Conference" is worth a watch - it's the entire junket (some of which is shown in the movie), and the hilarious Anna Farris is in full force in the scene. The other scenes are "More Aqua Aerobics," "Charlotte With Robots," "Morning After Karaoke" and "Bob In Hospital Waiting Room."
The film's excellent Theatrical Trailer is presented in two-channel sound and non-anamorphic widescreen (this is what really got me excited to see the movie initially) and then there's also the Kevin Shields "City Girl" Music Video. It's a nice song played against montage clips of Japan and Scarlett Johansson's character exploring the city.
I liked "Lost In Translation" overall, but I am still disappointed that the film did not live up to its hype and I would go far as calling it one of the most overrated films of 2003. Still, a lot of you out there will be adding this film to your DVD collections and you will be pretty happy with what's offered. While the supplements are good, given the film's critical reception and strong box office (for an indie film at least), I was hoping for a bit more. The sound mixes are lovely and the transfer is solid and captures the visual esscence of the story. So once again, prepared to get "Lost"...