Lost in Translation (2003)
March 9, 2018 6:27 PM - Subscribe

A faded movie star and a neglected young woman form an unlikely bond after crossing paths in Tokyo.

Senses of Cinema: With its minimalist narrative and its focus on the Gothic’s “negative register”, evident in the representation of secrets, unfamiliar spaces, estrangement, alienation and dislocation, Lost in Translation offers a new spin on the romantic comedy. With Coppola’s latest film conventions are revised and consequently the expectations of the audience are challenged. The presence of the Gothic casts a shadow over the promise of romance for Bob and Charlotte. Whilst the classic romantic comedy proposes, denies and finally promises a future for the couple, Lost in Translation presents a more ephemeral, but no less significant liaison. Coppola’s two features, The Virgin Suicides (1999) and Lost in Translation reveal their Gothic influence in the presentation of complex, fraught subjectivities, the use of the look to express more than words and in the construction of an ambience saturated in alienation. Lost in Translation explores cultural dislocation, loneliness and emotional estrangement by highlighting the gap between seeing, hearing and understanding. Setting her film in Japan, Coppola creates an uncanny world for Bob and Charlotte, who discover in one another familiarity within an unfamiliar context.

AV Club: The disorienting culture of Tokyo plays a major role in Lost In Translation: It doesn't cause the leads' alienation, but its foreignness heightens it, giving those feelings a surreal quality as it tightens Murray and Johansson's ephemeral but strong connection to each other. Like Rushmore, Lost In Translation revolves around the complicated bond between a frustrated middle-aged man, whose material riches do little to salve his emotional wounds, and a young upstart who breaks through his brittle exterior.

Roger Ebert: Bill Murray's acting in Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation" is surely one of the most exquisitely controlled performances in recent movies. Without it, the film could be unwatchable. With it, I can't take my eyes away. Not for a second, not for a frame, does his focus relax, and yet it seems effortless. It's sometimes said of an actor that we can't see him acting. I can't even see him not acting. He seems to be existing, merely existing, in the situation created for him by Sofia Coppola.

Slate: Murray's comic style is based on not opening himself up emotionally: It's the hipster-clown's triumph over vulnerability. The problem for him as a "straight" actor is how to stay true to that side of his personality (which is his genius) and yet somehow bare his soul, as a real actor must. Murray has given serious performances, to groans in The Razor's Edge (1984) and huzzahs in Rushmore (1998). But it seems to me that his two halves have never come together as they do here, in a way that connects that hilarious detachment with the deep and abiding sense of isolation that must have spawned it. This is the Bill Murray performance we've been waiting for: Saturday Night Live meets Chekhov.

NYTimes: Here he supplies the kind of performance that seems so fully realized and effortless that it can easily be mistaken for not acting at all. The corollary of this is that Ms. Coppola's direction is so breezily assured in its awareness of loneliness that the film could potentially be dismissed as self-consciously moody rather than registering as a mood piece.

Salon: Strangely enough, or perhaps not so, no one has accused Sofia's husband, Spike Jonze (the director of "Being John Malkovich" and "Adaptation"), of riding on the Coppola coattails, even though, as Lynn Hirschberg pointed out in a recent New York Times Magazine profile of Sofia, Jonze's movies have also benefited from the Coppola family support network. Jonze is not without talent: He's an occasionally entertaining filmmaker. But it's frustrating that he's received so many more accolades than his wife, who is well on her way to becoming a great one.


Now streaming on Netflix

‘Lost in Translation’: Sofia Coppola’s Poetic Exhibition of Love, Humor and Understanding

Cinema Sounds: Lost in Translation

Latent Racism in Lost in Translation

A Sampling of Japanese Comment on "Lost in Translation"
posted by MoonOrb (10 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I'm fond of this film, but there's no denying that it's in the vicinity of enough racist tropes to have unfortunate resonances. One of those works of art that might not be a problem in a universe without the pre-existing racist backdrop that, e.g., makes treating Japanese culture as weird and comical from an alienated American's point of view different than treating German culture the same way, but that's not the universe we live in.
posted by praemunire at 2:16 AM on March 10, 2018 [4 favorites]

That's covered in the "A Sampling..." link to my satisfaction, even though it's not much of "a sampling." I mean, where in the film is Germany? Even though there can be unintentional subtext, we also have to be careful not to unfairly criticize it for not doing something it wasn't trying to do anyway. Derrida taught us there are an infinity of missing details and perspectives.

And of course we can't have Salon participation without them drawing up some lazy battle of the sexes wordcount-inflator. I love Sofia's viewpoint and style, but I also think Spike has more natural talent. These things don't exist in tension!

That said, I haven't watched this since my first time, which I loved after already having recently visited Tokyo alone.
posted by rhizome at 10:04 AM on March 10, 2018

Oh man, I hated this movie so much when it came out. It was when I was reviewing, and everyone was going gaga over it. I found its oblivious racism and bourgeois ennui sooooooo irritating.
posted by smoke at 2:07 PM on March 10, 2018 [7 favorites]

This is one of those movies that, no matter where I'm at in life when I watch it, I can always find something.

And one of those things is always Scarlett Johanson's delivery of the "Evelyn Waugh was a man" line.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:44 AM on March 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

By the way, MoonOrb, are you going through my Blockbuster account from 2005? You've posted this, Shaun of the Dead, Fog of War, and Eternal Sunshine in the past week. 2005 me thanks you.
posted by kevinbelt at 8:50 AM on March 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

This is one of those movies that, no matter where I'm at in life when I watch it, I can always find something.
This. Due to some coincidence (although I suppose it's how cable movie channels made their programming), I ended up seeing it and Blade Runner on the same day for two consecutive years, and now I watch them every 6th/7th of November.

Three things make the movie: Coppola's eye for gorgeous shots and soundtrack picks (to the point I imported the vinyl single of City Girl / Just Like Honey) and Murray's middle-aged actor going on a mid-life crisis.
posted by lmfsilva at 4:55 PM on March 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

For whatever reason I have been fated to have brief and intense romances. This film - and now Call Me By Your Name, as well - capture that lightning-in-a-bottle-but-then-it-leaves feeling so well.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 2:07 PM on March 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

I haven't seen this since shortly after it came out, but I really liked it when I saw it. I have been going back and forth on rewatching it since there is always the risk of disappointment when you belatedly see a film's flaws.
posted by Dip Flash at 10:04 AM on March 13, 2018

What a great story
posted by growabrain at 8:02 AM on August 18, 2020

Bill Murray was robbed at the Oscars that year and I have had a grudge against Sean Penn ever since.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 12:06 PM on March 26

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