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Lost in Translation

On first viewing, this movie has a great payoff in that final scene on the street. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) has been more or less emotionally isolated though this whole
story. She spends much of her time alone, and her one attempt at reaching out, on the phone with her friend, is entirely missed. Bob (Bill Murray) spends most of the story befuddled behind the facade of his own stardom. He looks like he might cry during that photo shoot, yet his public image is the epitome of "good times". And he seems like a man whose life is passing him by with very little real involvement on his part. So that scene on the street, when Bob escapes from his limo and makes unapologetic, direct, serious contact with Charlotte... and she's moved to tears by it... is a major breakthrough for both characters. GREAT stuff! Yay for both of them! That was enough for me to walk out smiling, after the first time through.

For days after, I kept turning over the title in my mind: "Lost In Translation" and asking myself what was lost. The second time through, I took notes, and now, after 4 views, I have a list. Writer/director Sofia Coppola has created a movie with the charm of a 'little' movie, but with great depth. The crux of it is laid out in the Suntori shoot, disguised as comic relief: the director has a great deal to say about exactly what he wants from Bob. What comes through the translator is so brief and basic that Bob asks, with understandable doubt, "is that all he said?"

It's the sort of missed communication that happens around every one of us, daily, but is poignantly illustrated with the medium of film:
Put LIFE through the filter of a camera lense, and
ART becomes Entertainment
Whiskey becomes iced tea
Reality becomes image
NY becomes LA
Culture becomes couture
Johnny Carson becomes that scary little tv man
Charlotte’s curves become Ana Faris’ anorexia
Friendship becomes sex, in many movies, and we wonder if it will here…

In similar fashion, Bob's question is echoed later in Charlotte's question to him: "what about marriage? Does it get any easier?" She's asking "is this all there is?"

The answer to the question of what is lost is: detail. Detail is what is lost in translation. The appreciation for the details in a partner's life fades with familiarity and after 25 years.. or after only 2.. we fail to notice that they're smoking again, or what color the carpeting is. We stop caring if her scarf is long enough or what kind of shelves go into the study. This is pointed up pretty clearly several times, but especially in Bob's response to Lydia's probes about the carpet samples: “Whatever you like. I’m completely lost.”

Given that there's that much profundity in this little movie, I have to laugh that there are people who claim it's not about anything happening.

Additionally, I have to say: I'm in love with Bill Murray's performance in this film. The moment when he and Charlotte first start talking in the bar, and she says, "25 years (of marriage)... that's impressive." The look on his face, before he even says anything... is worth a paragraph of subtext. It's just heartbreaking. Similarly, at The Worst Lunch, before either of them speaks, that defensive "I didn't do anything" look on his face is just priceless. I'm shocked at my own admiration. I really would have never thought he could pull that off, and seeing it from such an unexpected source is wonderful.

Charlotte herself is played to perfection by Scarlett Johansson. Having seen her previously only in Ghost World, it was great to see her range in this. The ten year career of this 20 year old actress serves her well, here.

Of no suprise is Giovanni Ribisi's turn as Charlotte's husband. This kid is brill and a fine piece of casting. He adds weight to Charlotte's side of the equasion.

The last thing I love about this movie is Japan. Of course the language provides comic relief. Beyond that, the two giggling local ladies in the back row of the waiting room were awesome. The contrast of cultures provides obvious meaning to the title, as our American protagonists are starkly contrasted against the locals. On a slightly deeper level though, this is an ancient culture which values honor... which is what this movie is about at its core. So, the happy ending, as I see it, is that that basic and valuable thing is not lost.