Lost in Translation is brilliantly written and directed by Sofia Coppola.
It is a comedic drama starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. They play as Bob Harris and Charlotte, two lost and lonely American souls in a strange land. We study wonderful travelogue, sharp cultural juxtaposition, affectionate love story and a fierce indictment of marriage. We see this through two characters. They bond strongly, if temporarily, and their relationship remains platonic. When they begin to fall in love with each other they begin to emerge from the safe, claustrophobic havens of their hotel rooms to experience all that Japan has to offer for them.
Tokyo is an extremely busy city, but the two American still feel lost within the complexity of Japan. Loneliness doesnt always mean that someone is physically separated from loved ones or from people in general. One can be alone in the middle of a crowded room. Just like Bob and Charlotte are alone in the heart of Japan. They both happen to be in Tokyo for different reasons and they come from different backgrounds, but neither of them can seem to get beyond their dissatisfactions in order to take in this whole new world. With the language barriers, the indecipherable television programs and their personal problems, they look at Japan as a puzzle that cannot be possibly be put together in a matter of days.
As the film opens, Bob Harris has just arrived in Japan to do a series of whiskey commercials. For a few days of work he will earn two million dollars. His journey from the airport to the hotel he is confronted with his own picture in an ad amongst the bright neon glitter of central Tokyo at night. Bob seems disinterested in his marriage and career. He makes calls back home to his wife, whose passion also seems to have flamed out.
Bob and his wife hint at each other that they both dont really care what the other really has to say. On the other hand, Bob still loves his children very much. While Charlotte and John (Giovanni Ribisi), married for two years, have a passion-free relationship. John and Charlotte tell each other that they love each other so often; they seem to be trying to convince themselves.
Yet, Charlotte still follows her self-obsessed photographer husband. Charlotte is having grave doubts about her husband, her career potential (she wants to be a writer) and, her place in life. She searches for meaning in her life. Bob and Charlottes life struggles lie deeper than what one person can provide, especially the person they have chosen to settle down with.
Bob and Charlotte are married people, but they are also very lonely people. Charlotte doesnt know her place in life as she sadly says to Bob Im stuck. She doesnt know what to do for the rest of her life, so she is confused and disoriented in her own life. Coppola shows that the two are lost not merely because of where they are, but who they are.
Charlotte lounges sadly in her hotel room. She sits on the windowsill and gazes out over the city in daylight, listening to a self-help CD. Its a convincing portrait of depression. Bobs room is entirely dark and wood-coloured. His solitude doesnt take the form of gazing out, but of mindless activity. He tries to go to the gym, swimming at the hotel pool, watching television, taking a bath and sitting alone at the hotel bar.
Bob and charlotte meet in the hotel bar. Charlotte and Bob ponder about their confusion and share an unmistakable connection that transcends speech. Its in the small, quiet moments that the movie soars. Perfectly capturing a travelers inability to sleep while he tries his best to shut out the world around him and fall asleep. Without the use of subtitles, Coppola forces the viewers to feel just as lost as Bob. When the Japanese do speak to him in English, he is sometimes just as confused as when their words are translated for him.
Throughout the film, Coppola trusts the viewers intelligence, assuming that we dont need everything spelled out for us. During the film, the beautiful and subtle moments depicted within the Japanese culture, which were deliberately placed there to juxtapose the flashier sides of Japan from the flower arranging scene, to the temples, to the cinematography that beautifully captured the urban beauty of Tokyo. Tokyo is portrayed as a gorgeous city of lights and constant activity. Moments of claustrophobic city living, such as an insanely cramped apartment party, are offset by stunning urban shots. For example, while Bob Harris plays golf in the shadow of Mount Fuji.
These short and silent shots in the film bring in the deepest meanings of the entire film. The montage exaggerates the sense of isolation and loneliness. Sofia Coppolas scripts are especially spare and short, allowing these silences to say more then a mouthful of most carefully chosen words. Sofia Coppola shows the expressive power of the static shot.
She uses this shot many times during the film, even in the very first scene of the film. The tone achieved is alive. The world of Lost In Translation is complex. The combined elements of cinematic technique visualization, sound, performance feed off of each other in each sequences, filled with juxtaposed images and montage shots.
In Lost In Translation windows appear often, a repeating pattern of the mediated gaze. The Americans are on the inside of the glass, looking out. Coppola displays an effortless mastery of visual language, constructing transparent layers to suggest her themes. One marvelously delicate scene shows the two characters in conversation, but we only see their reflections in a window, through which we can see the expanse of night-time Tokyo blooming with glittering lights.
The scene immediately precedes and prepares the moment that the characters finally open to each other: Does it get any easier?Coppola uses natural sounds to create a rich texture that describes the city as well, and as specifically, as the visuals do. When Bob carries Charlotte through a dark hotel in the middle of the night, the gentle whirr of a distant vacuum cleaner, the hum of fluorescent lights and his footfalls on the carpet combine into a delicate trance. A light-hearted chase scene through a parlor reveals in playful virtuosity, the chimes of the gambling machines and the coins in the slot tinkling and rattling, panning quickly as the characters run. In many of the scenes, Coppolas own memories unfold onscreen. Through Charlotte we experience the all the familiarity of culture shock in Tokyo: the gloriously messy and crowded subway and the alienation from not speaking the language. When they venture out on the streets, we are treated to visual adventures in restaurants, nightclubs, a strip joint, a Buddhist temple and a video arcade.
How the central characters chose to deal with this world is one of the focal points of the film, its their common bond as outsiders sharing the common experience of their own alienation and loneliness that brings them together. They experienced a culture by interacting with the people. The karaoke scene was an example of bonding with another culture. At Karaoke, the characters that have been unable to speak their problems before fall in love through singing songs.
The filmmaker often speaks through the songs to touching or humorous effect. Their songs, in this potent and perfectly performed scene, summarize the essence of the tension in the movie: they are special, and theyve found each other, but like a dream, theres nothing more. And there can never be. The two characters are in focus, and everything around them is a blur. Like a good dream, Sofia Coppolas Lost In Translation envelops you with a feeling of fantastic light, moody sounds, head-turning love, and a feeling of dj vu even though you may have never been to Tokyo.