The International Writers Magazine:Lost in Translation review
Review by James Skinner
/Director: Sofia Coppola
Scarlett Johansson .... Charlotte
Bill Murray .... Bob Harris
Akiko Takeshita .... Ms. Kawasaki
Kazuyoshi Minamimagoe .... Press Agent
Winner Oscar for Best Script 2004
again the Oscars came and went, and once again the usual super-production,
over publicised, over rated and over lambasted by the whole movie paparazzi
wins all the prizes. Lord of the Rings the Third may have
been the delight of the darlings but personally, I had seen the
First and that was enough for me.
The trilogy put on the screen as some gigantic Game boy spoof is an
insult to Tolkiens epic classic. They should have presented the
whole lot at a computer festival in Thailand or better still at some
international medical conference dealing with mental pathology. Im
sure that at either they would have received top prizes or ovations.
So you can see what I think about todays umpteen number of film
festivals that culminate in Hollywoods glamour puss where all
is exposed as the best in visual entertainment. Give me Gary Cooper
in High Noon any day. And yet here I am presenting my review
on one of the candidates, Lost in Translation that, apart
from obtaining the award for best script left the stage empty handed.
read some of the reviews in the Spanish press, several with mixed
comments and being a born again translator, I thought I would venture
to the local fleapit to see the film for myself.
To start with, I saw the whole thing in the dubbed into
Spanish version. This in itself deserves an Oscar, however I dont
intend to analyse the subtleties of Bill Murray speaking with a
Madrid accent or Scarlett Johansson sulking away in toneless Spanish.
The gist of the story is still there to be appreciated.
Bill Murray is a has been actor who is in Tokyo to sponsor
a Japanese whiskey in a television advert whilst Scarlett is accompanying
her photographer husband on some insignificant assignment in the
land of the Rising Sun.
characters are staying at the same luxurious hotel and both are there
for business reasons. They are also bored. Take Bills leisure
time, and Scarletts loneliness whilst hubbie is off on his jaunt
and the obvious happens. They meet. The build up to their first encounter
is a series of flashes of incoherent Japanese babble fired at Bill by
the director during his television rehearsals whilst Scarlett just flaunts
around the hotel with an occasional visit to a Buddhist monastery not
knowing quite what to do. Intermingled are the walks and taxi ride scenes
of both characters through Tokyos billboard city with flashing
Oriental hieroglyphics that remind us of the reason for the film in
the first place. They are both Lost in translation.
Or are they?
The essence of the plot, brilliantly put together by Sophia, offspring
of the Coppola family is a situation tragic-comedy of two characters
in a foreign land. Yes, I know this is obvious, but they are not there
for pleasure, nor are they there as rucksack tourists. They really shouldnt
be there in the first place. But money is money. Bob Harris, Bills
character is making a million bucks out of the Japanese and Charlottes
hubby is about to make the scoop of his life as a photographer. So why
are they so unhappy? Ill tell you why. In real life, the VP of
a large corporation, or the marketing executive of some fancy chain
of supermarkets from New Jersey or London will spend a few days or a
week of negotiations in Prague, Madrid, Lima or Riyadh. They meet with
their counterparts and, presto either strike a deal or leave empty handed.
But what do they do in their leisure time? Bugger all! They dont
know anybody, cant speak the language and yet possess a company
Platinum Amex card. In other words, time to spare and a limitless expense
account but Lost in translation. This is the beauty of the
film and how it has been put together. It portrays the effect on millions
of the upper echelons of business travellers who venture around the
world and who fall into the same trap.
Bob Harris zapping away at incomprehensive television programs
in his room and then going down to the hotel bar only to play around
with a shot of scotch whilst listening to a chuck out Anglo-Saxon
singer perform for the drinkers, is classical. Charlottes endless
walks around her own room in her underwear until finally venturing down
to the same watering hole shows that she is immersed in the same feeling
of boredom. The thoughts going through their minds are identical. Shall
I go out on the town? Shall I find a lay? Or shall I just get drunk?
When they finally join forces as two humdrum misfits the chemistry comes
alive and the film really takes off.
Coppolas portrayal of Tokyo and its pleasures are exaggerated.
But this is the magnificence of the script. One example is when the
couple venture out together, they move from a daft Karaoke session in
English with some of Charlottes unknown friends to a stroll through
a games arcade where a young boy is bashing at a machine with a baseball
bat. As they walk or taxi through the streets they are constantly harassed
by Bobs portrait appearing on billboards everywhere smiling and
sipping away at his advertised Japanese brew. When Bob is invited to
be the host of a chat show he is confronted with a hideous presenter
dressed up as Coco the Clown who spends several minutes just spluttering
incomprehensible lines at a stupefied Yank, who is, once again Lost
Is it an insult to the Japanese? This depends on the interpretation
or should I say translation. Charlotte for example spent
most of her life in New York. She should therefore identify the glamour
of the city lights of Tokyo with her hometown. No way! Her mind doesnt
see it that way. Sure everything looks the same, but shes just
not with it. Bob views everything shown or said to him in Japanese as
a continuous monologue of crap! Hence his mind is constantly registering
it as the same message being said over and over again. Do you get it?
Hes in a trance and completely Lost in translation.
So what about the development of their relationship as they wander through
this melee of incomprehension?
Again, its a Coppola stroke of brilliance. Both characters by
now are cocooned within their own woven hostility towards the environment
surrounding them. Theyre emitting the same message as they wander
about in a stupefied daze in and out of the safe haven of their hotel.
Once their body language unites them, its like two opposite poles of
a magnet. They come together to share theyre brief solitude. This
is where Sophia, once again shows superior excellence in film writing.
No, they dont exchange the usual my wife doesnt understand
me, or you look so young and then run off and make
love. Sure, there is a bit of sex as Bob wakes up one morning and finds
hes got chuck out Barbra Streisand in his bedroom.
Charlotte naturally catches him out. The movie wouldnt sell otherwise.
But no, the real clinch is the mutual understanding and realisation
that it is not their spouses fault that they are caught up together
feeling the way they do in this foreign land. Their message is if
youre going to travel away from home, do it because you want to,
not because you have to. Otherwise, like them youll be Lost
© James Skinner. March 2004
all rights reserved