Now I’ve seen Lost in Translation twice, brooded over it, been dazzled by it, and am ready to comment on it. Occasionally a movie comes along that defies description, where plot is subservient to feelings, emotions, characters. In Lost in Translation there is little plot, but much longing. Longing to find one’s place amid the chaos and confusion. Longing for connection in an age of consumption. Longing to understand one’s purpose and destiny.
!>/files/2007/11/lost10.jpg(Lost in Translation)! Bob is a washed-up actor. Charlotte is one year out of school and two years into a marriage that isn’t as simple and carefree as it initially seemed. Both find themselves in a strange, Americanized hotel in the heart of a bustling, gaudy, crowded, isolating Tokyo. Bob is there from some time away from a wife he loves but can’t stand. He is getting paid $2 million to have his face plastered over busses and buildings and television screens. Charlotte is following her photographer husband, who is in Japan to shoot bands and fashion models. Both are looking for some connection amid the chaos.
In a shrine to modernity the two find each other the old fashioned way — in a bar. Neither can sleep, jet-lagged and confused, living in a daze. And the movie is itself a daze, a collection of found moments, shots of purity and beauty in the chaos. Bob and Charlotte cling to each other because they are familiar, grow from each other because they are both passionate, and leave each other because they both knew all the time that their short relationship was just a fleeting respite in the strange journey of life.
Don’t be deceived, there is no sex here. The physical passion is subsumed by the emotional, by the spirituality that can cut through Bob’s cynicism and Charlotte’s wide-eyed confusion. These two souls mingle in a complicated improvised dance. They dart about the city of Tokyo, finding private meaning amid the electric glow. They help each other discover themselves, recharge their dried up stores of emotion, and continue on their respective life paths.
Charlotte: I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be.
Bob: You’ll figure that out. The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.
The experience is underscored by a wonderful soundtrack of Tokyo dream-pop music, and is painted lovingly by director Sofia Coppola, who spent much time in Japan in her early 20s. Coppola, not afraid to drop her shooting schedule and rush outdoors if the weather was right, pieced together much of the film from found moments. Bill Murray as Bob and Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte allow themselves to be taken over by their characters, and that is what makes this film work. Murray’s deadpan delivery and incredible use of face and body adds poignancy to some scenes and wonderful humor to others. His willingness to sing — badly — in a karaoke bar allows the audience to experience one of the character’s finest moments.
And the ending, oh the ending.
I’m not one to use words like “triumph,” but this movie was pretty damn good. There is only one thing that concerns me — much of the movie’s beauty is in the shots of the strange Westernized Tokyo, replete with high-tech gadgetry and amazing amounts of electric light. I worry, perhaps wrongly, that as these uber-hip Japanese innovations hit the American markets in the next year or two, it might somewhat lessen the impact of the aspects of the movie that deal with alienation in a strange land. But really, Japan isn’t alienating because of the technology, it’s alienating because it’s Japan and we are Americans, who cannot speak the language, do not understand the culture, and can see only the differences and not the sameness and unity of shared humanity. And the movie is an exploration of that, so perhaps it will hold up just fine.