Lost in Translation
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Lost in Translation

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One of the best things about independent films is they can go contrary to what Hollywood considers the established formula. One glowing example of this is the latest film by Sophia Coppola, ‘Lost in Translation’. According to the infinite wisdom of the major Hollywood studios a film concerning an older man and a beautiful young woman, isolated far from home, the emphasis should run to the more carnal aspects of human relationships. Instead, this film offers a look into the psychological composition of two human beings, each fighting their own battle against loneliness and isolation. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a comedian rapidly approaching the end of his career. While still somewhat successful he does not feel that what he has achieved amounts to much. He takes a job promoting whisky in Japan, something very common for American film stars. When he talks to his wife on the phone there is the feeling that they are both repeating dialogue from an old play long past any passion. Bob is caught in that spot we all find ourselves at times, on the fence between the happiness of achieving and the sorrow have having that achievement now past. While nursing a drink in a Tokyo bar he runs into a young housewife Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson). She is married to an upcoming photographer (Giovanni Ribisi) who is in Japan for a photo shoot. While she is visiting sites in Tokyo she fails to be inspired by the spirituality of those places. She blurts out to a friend that calls, that she has doubts in her marriage. Here is a young woman that should, by all metrics imposed by society, feel that she has it made. She has a creative young husband, the opportunity to travel to far away places, yet, Charlotte finds herself rapidly becoming dead inside. When the two met there is something that clicks. They experience those feelings that can only be stated to a stranger, someone with no shared history, drawing them together. The motivation here is not the usual lust but rather something far deeper, the human need to connect, to be acknowledged by another human being. As the two friends explore Japan they are in an environment foreign to them but they are anchored by each other. Both of these people are in disparate need for taste of freedom to be themselves, not the selves they publish to the world but their inner selves. For a brief moment they are just Bob and Charlotte. There is an emotional investment that is offered by this film to the audience, a personal look into the lives of these characters.

Bill Murray has long been one of the comic geniuses of our time. From films like Ghostbusters to Stripes he brings his own brand to any role. Here, he demonstrates that his talent runs deeper than many would have expected. Throughout his career he has been able to make me laugh; now he can command the invocation of other emotions as well. In this film he is not Bill Murray, he is Bob. He fleshes out this tragic clown to the fullest. The tragic clown itself is one of the most difficult roles to play. Here is the textbook of how it should be done. Bob is shown as a man paid to be funny, it’s his job and on his time off he shuns this gift of laughter. As a perfect counterpoint is Johansson. She was excellent in films like Ghost World and here she comes into her own as a rising and brilliant young star. Johansson displays a depth of character that lets us understand Charlotte. We feel for this lost young woman and know on an emotional level why she is drawn into this relationship. The two together pull us into their world taking us on an emotional ride better than I have seen for many years. If the proper awards are not offered to these two then it is a dark day for American cinema, they richly deserve the acclaim.

My degree is in genetics and with this background I have to wonder about the genes in the Coppola family. Between Francis Ford Coppola and Nicholas Cage there was more talent than most families see. Now, with the rise of Francis’ daughter Sophia, we see that talent must be a dominate trait. Okay, her acting in Godfather Part Three was not the best around. That is obviously not her calling. On the other hand, she is one dedicated and interesting director. I was moved by her previous film The Virgin Suicides, the way she built the story layer by layer. With Translation she continues to perfect this technique. Coppola has an innate sense of pacing a film. She allows the film to surround the audience, slowing, giving the time necessary to pull the viewers in, time to become emotionally invested in the characters and story. Coppola uses the modern Tokyo not only as a backdrop but more importantly as a contrast to the characters emotional state. The city they are in is bright, busy but ultimately not real for them. The two of them are as disconnected from the city as they are from their respective lives. She lights and frames the scenes with a skill that is far beyond her years. Here is a director to watch as she grows in her craft.

Universal has given this film almost the attention that it deserves. I would have liked a commentary track with the cast and director but at least the technical specifications are up there. The Dolby 5.1 audio is clean but the DTS is exceptional, providing even more depth and ambience. The anamorphic video is the way to go here. The pan and scan version collapses the vision of the director, go with the fill 1.85:1 version. The transfer is free of any discernable flaw. There are a couple of deleted scenes provided. It is not difficult here to see why they where left out. Their inclusion really would not have added much at all to the story or character development. An extend scene also shows how tightly edited this film is. There is not much on the cutting room floor that was needed in any fashion. This movie will be talked about for years to come. The combination of acting, direction and writing creates a worthwhile experience for the serious film buff and a nice change of pace from the vapid presentations that have all but taken over the theaters.

Posted 12/26/03

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