Sophia Coppola writes and directs a visually beautiful, yet slightly dull film about our fundamental need for human connection and understanding. The film follows the separately displaced lives of Charlotte and Bob, both alone in Tokyo and both experiencing their own individual identity crises. Suffering from insomnia they meet one night in the hotel bar and are drawn to each others humor, intelligence and cynicism.
Bill Murray plays Bob, a man totally at odds with his newfound surroundings. He is an actor in the autumn of his career, in Tokyo to promote a brand of Japanese whisky when he could be doing something a lot more artistically fulfilling but getting paid a whole lot less. He has sold out and he is plagued by it. However, he becomes far more at ease with his surroundings when he meets bored young wife, Charlotte, and their friendship blossoms.
Scarlett Johansson plays Charlotte, a young woman struggling with her identity, recently graduated and uprooted. She’s craving the engagement of her husband, a photographer on assignment shooting bands in Japan (played by Giovanni Ribisi, who will always be Phoebes brother in Friends to me). But his mind is caught up in work. Charlotte is suffering from intense boredom, a malaise so historically connected to women. She doesn’t know who she is or what to do with herself. And she doesn’t seem to own a pair of pajama bottoms. She spends a large proportion of the film lounging around her hotel room in her pants, only dressed fully from the waist up. I have to admit the only times my legs have been that consistently smooth have been during similar periods of intense boredom. But I never spent that long staring at them.
In Bob, who is several years her senior, she seems to find a mentor, or father figure. She playfully teases him and obviously appreciates being valued for her intelligence. But later on she starts to toy with Bob, at one point flirting her way through a karaoke rendition of Brass In Pocket. She becomes spiteful when he sleeps with a woman closer to his own age. Their complex relationship and the fact that the film opens with a cropped shot of Johanssons pink chiffon clad bottom lend a whiff of a Lolita story to the film. But Bob is never phased by her, he seems to understand Charlotte better than she understands herself.
For me, Coppollas strength as a director is in portraying the interior lives of people. So much is left unsaid in this film, yet we can guess a lot of what’s going on in Bob and Charlottes heads through the slightest look or momentary touch. However, I found myself frustrated by Charlottes inconstancy, as she veers between smugness and petulance.
The best thing about Lost In Translation is undoubtedly the music. Sophia Coppolla is, after all, the queen of the soundtrack. Whether it’s using the dreamy synth melodies of Air for The Virgin Suicides or punchy 80s hits for Marie Antoinette, she always nails it. And for someone who loves music even more than they love film, Coppola rarely disappoints on that front. This soundtrack is utterly flawless and Coppola completely stunned me with the use of two great, yet little known, 80s British indie treasures to underscore some of the films most poignant moments. The first is ‘Sometimes’ by My Bloody Valentine, accompanying us on a late night taxi ride through an alien landscape of fuzzy coloured lights and blurred shapes. It is used to devastating effect. I could have stayed in that world for hours. In fact, I almost cried. The second, to end the film, is ‘Just Like Honey’ by The Jesus and Mary Chain. They are inspired choices. Neither song has anything remotely to do with Japan, but both envelop the listener in a dreamy, gritty, haze of sound, which expresses a potent sense of loneliness.
Ultimately, this is a pleasant, meandering film which toys with exploring the nature of loneliness and the complexities of human relationships but never quite gets to the philosophical epiphany I was expecting. To be honest, apart from a couple of heartbreakingly beautiful moments, I found it a bit boring.
Unsurprisingly, a film which is essentially a drawn out conversation between Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanssen, does not pass the Bechdel test.