Living away from a large urban area can be hard—especially hard when you are a movie buff. Many of the art house films do not come your way. When a movie comes out you cannot get to, you wait with bated breath for its DVD release.
“Lost in Translation” was a critically heralded movie from 2003. It has a performance by Bill Murray that is nominated for Best Actor for this year’s Oscars. There are also nominations for writing and direction for Sophia Coppola, and a Best Picture nomination.
“Translation” tells the story of two Americans lost and alone in Tokyo. Murray plays Bob Harris, an American movie star in Japan to do a commercial. Scarlett Johansson is Charlotte, a recently married Yale graduate now in Tokyo with her husband. The husband is a photographer on assignment.
What we see are two people marooned from their own lives. Being in Japan is not revelatory, but boring. The two do not sleep because of jet lag. Harris doesn’t even try to enjoy a locale where his stardom is not a hurdle to be navigated. He spends his time either watching television or down in the hotel bar. The wife he left behind sends no support, but rather a steady stream of notes and carpet swatches for a house they are building.
Charlotte spends her days sitting in the window of the hotel room. She listens to audio books, trying to discern what it is in life she should do. She takes train trips to visit temples and shrines, with the implied hope that a spiritual revelation will take place. But none comes.
Bob and Charlotte meet in the bar and within a few days are drawn together. They are like castaways—disconnected from life, but finding something to hold on to in the other. They develop a relationship that is sweet and life-giving. Both are in marriages that do not give them what they need. The finding of the other allows them to gain a sense of self that does not come through the relationship of their respective spouses.
Much praise has been heaped on Bill Murray’s performance. What we see is the maturing of the clown he was on “Saturday Night Live.” His ability to be quiet and to inhabit scenes with just his presence is remarkable. But equal praise needs to be given to Scarlett Johansson. She proves herself equal to Murray in every scene. There is a confidence in her that makes it easy to see why the two characters are drawn together.
The movie contains a few mild profanities. It receives its R rating for a scene shot in a strip club, wherein there is nudity and a vulgar song played in the background. There is no on-camera sex, but there is a “morning after” scene.
The DVD adds the usual extras. Deleted scenes are included, as well as an interview with Sophia Coppola and Bill Murray, and a mini-documentary on the movie’s making.
“Lost in Translation” doesn’t make loud pronouncements; it’s a quiet film with a slower pace. Some scenes are there simply to prove how lonely the characters truly are.
“Lost in Translation” is not a cheap exploitation of a May-December romance. Rather, this movie does a wonderful job showing how individuals make choices and live with commitments.
Mike Parnell is pastor of Beth Car Baptist Church in Halifax, Va.
MPAA Rating: R for some sexual content.
Director: Sophia Coppola
Writer: Sophia Coppola
Cast: Bob Harris: Bill Murray; Charlotte: Scarlett Johansson; John: Giovanni Ribisi; Ms. Kawasaki: Akiko Takeshita; Jazz Singer: Catherine Lambert.
The movie’s Web site is here.