Charlotte (Scarlett Johannson) waits around in her Tokyo hotel room for her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) to return from photographing vapid celebrities. Having a degree in philosophy from Yale, Charlotte utilises her time lying round gazing out at the cityscape (mostly clad in only her underwear), and philosophising about whether she actually knows her husband. Bob (Bill Murray) is in Tokyo to film a whisky commercial. Once a huge star, he is on his way down to B- list status. He has a wife who faxes him new shelving details at 4:20a.m. and couriers him carpet samples regarding the next round of renovations. Both Charlotte and Bill are emotionally and culturally dislocated, insomniacs who find each other in this strange environment. Thankfully the ‘romantic’ side of this ‘romantic comedy’ takes a back seat to friendship and subtly evolves in a way in which even a cynic like myself could not help but appreciate.
If you are looking for insights into Japanese culture, Lost in Translation will give just about as many as The Last Samurai. It’s a limited view through the eyes of a foreigner, yet for this film it’s appropriate. Charlotte wanders the thronging streets, surrounded by electronic billboards, and is part of the teeming masses at the railway station. She does what is a must for every tourist, thinks meditative thoughts while wandering in the soft rain through a Buddhist temple in Kyoto – these scenes are pleasing to the eye. However, technically, the film is slightly mannered. The slight shifts in frame, miniscule zooms and focus pulling are a little overdone…showing the viewer that the cameraman indeed knows what all the buttons and knobs are, becomes a little grating.
Murray and Johannson both deliver brilliant, award- winning performances (both have received BAFTAs and Murray has been nominated for an Oscar™), complete with excellently droll humour. The whole ‘l’ and ‘r’ mix up is cashed in on, Bob has a gargantuan battle with a cross trainer, and characters such as one of those wacky TV show hosts have you in stitches.
Directed by Sofia Coppola