The Favorites is a series briefly exploring films I love, to find out what makes them - and me - tick. Lost in Translation (2003/USA/dir. Sofia Coppola) appeared at #98 on my original list.
What it is • A tone poem of a movie, which contains worlds although little happens onscreen. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson at her most lush) is visiting Tokyo with her filmmaker husband. He's distracted by work, she doesn't know what she wants to do yet with her life, and when he leaves for a few days she finds herself lonely and disoriented in the strange urban landscape and luxurious yet slightly unreal hotel. There she meets Bob Harris (Bill Murray), a morose aging actor in town to shoot a whiskey commercial. They become fast friends, sharing a bemused yet curious perspective, and perhaps they even begin to fall in love. The film, which follows Charlotte and Bob through nocturnal excursions (kitschy karaoke bars, anarchically surreal arcades, mellow pot parties) and daily adventures (a graceful Air-scored excursion to Kyoto, Bob's hilarious cameo on a zany game show), was highly acclaimed and awarded (including an Oscar for writer/director Sofia Coppola's screenplay). But it seems to have as many detractors as it does enthusiasts, detractors who find it pretentious, boring, smug, meandering, and so forth. Well, they're wrong.
Why I like it •
The film works at a certain frequency, but if you don't tune in to it, its charms will probably escape you. There's also some noise that can get in the way - Coppola's (and hence the characters') outlook is somewhat elitist and self-satisfied, and if you can't get past that, than the movie's appeal will be "lost in translation" for sure. But if you can take the good of the characters with the bad and then proceed to find that place - that place that arises when you have a moment to spare and take a look around you as if for the first time, when you're on a bus looking out a window or going for a walk through a neighborhood you've never seen before; or you're sitting outside and noticing a detail on the sidewalk or across the street or in a landscape that somehow escaped your attention until this quiet moment; when you're talking to someone, getting past the point of overfamiliarity until suddenly, with surprise, their face takes on a new, and seemingly more honest, character...well, then you've found the key to Lost in Translation's magic. It also works if you're in a romantic frame of mind: I saw it in theaters, and liked it but didn't consider it great - only when I viewed it again, on video, at a time when I had a crush on one of my classmates, did it truly weave its spell. I watched it over and over in the next few days, in a dizzying loop. My nascent infatuation went no further than Charlotte's and Bob's, but since then this film has been one of my favorites.
How you can see it • Lost in Translation is available in streaming and on DVD from Netflix. A clip from the film is featured at 3:00 in "Reality Cinema", Chapter 31 in my video series.
What do you think? • Are you one of the fans, or one of the haters? Is this Sofia Coppola's best film, and if so, why? How much do you credit Bill Murray, and the comedic elements, for the film's success? Have you ever had an experience similar to that in the film, and if so did it impact your enjoyment? What do you think was whispered at the end of the film - do you buy the You Tube translations?