by Haley Goetz
I recently read that Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation has been widely considered within critic circles to be the best film that came out of the early 2000’s. This is saying a lot, as this time in cinema brought a huge amount of growth, innovation and storytelling that hadn’t been seen in films from a previous era (as shown in such films as Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Amores Perros and Memento). What interested me about this film and what has more than definitely sparked the attention of a myriad of viewers is the overall simplicity of it. While it was marketed as a comedy, most people would argue that the film veers fairly far away from that genre, instead bringing a classification wholly of its own. The picture’s languid take on storytelling makes it markedly different from most other narrative films. The story is carried squarely on the shoulders of its characters, and it becomes clear that without them, there would truly be no film whatsoever.
Bob (the wonderfully charming Bill Murray) and Charlotte (a young and stunning Scarlett Johansson) are both literally lost in translation within the greater confines of Tokyo, Japan. The two of them are guests at the Park Hyatt Tokyo in Shinjuku, one of the city’s most bustling wards. Even though the hotel is located in the middle of it all, the sights and sounds of the great city become muted within the building’s walls.
Our protagonists are both Americans abroad in Japan for the first time and the language barrier is quite distinct and hard to overcome. While some fragmented splices of conversation are translated for them, they are mostly left on their own in terms of dealing with the difference in language. The film’s title frames this perfectly by showing how these two people are disconnected not only from their foreign surroundings, but also from the people in their lives and are in search of a more meaningful form of communication with someone new.
Charlotte is staying at the hotel with her husband, a fairly eminent entertainment photographer who knows a bit of Japanese and is never around. So when Charlotte finds Bob, she finally discovers the connection that she needed all along in this unfamiliar city. Bob feels the same way, albeit in a different light, as he comes from another situation entirely.
Just recently having graduated with a philosophy degree from Yale, Charlotte is new to being married and out of college. On the other hand, Bob is a seasoned veteran of the married life. His wife and family are back home in California, and it’s apparent that Bob has become estranged from them. He and his wife have a series of strained telephone conversations throughout the film, and his young daughter doesn’t feel like speaking to him over the phone. Bob feels lost, as he is detached from these people he calls his family. Charlotte is also lost. She’s lost sight of who she is and who her husband is, as she feels like he has become a different person in the short amount of time they have been abroad. She wants to feel something, and she does feel something once she gets to know Bob well.The narrative of this film is not a love story, nor should it be thought of as a love story. It is about two people in need of a different sort of human connection than they’d ever had before and about how profound a relationship like this can be. As a backdrop, the city of Tokyo adds a dimension to this relationship. The city is framed in such a way that doesn’t just put it into the background of the characters’ situations, but rather in the foreground. The whole city is used: from a variety of gaming arcades and a vast metro network, to sushi restaurants, nightclubs and karaoke bars.
Lost In Translation has been my favorite film since I was 13 years old. It deals with so many concepts, and it’s not possible to realize just how profound it is until it’s been watched multiple times. I’ve sat through roughly 20 viewings of the film at this point, and it never gets old. I always find little details and tidbits that, without which, the story’s arc and meaning would have fallen apart. It’s these small, but hugely necessary elements that make a great work of cinematic art. And it doesn’t hurt that Coppola’s Academy Award-winning screenplay for the film is absolutely stellar. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered another script that is rife with so much subtext. What is said in three words carries the weight of 30 words. When Bob tells his wife that he’s “lost,” all the underlying themes of the film come to light and a sense of true existentialism in Coppola’s writing is revealed. Everything has meaning in this film, and it really enforces how much depth the little things in life have.
Sofia Coppola, in her writing and directing of this film, presents a portrait of a young artist highly skilled beyond her years. She works with the medium in lovely ways, enhancing the texture of the cinematography and scoring the film with an innovative soundtrack, utilizing such famed indie artists as Air and The Jesus and Mary Chain. Even though Coppola hails from a storied legacy of filmmaking greats that give her significant monetary contributions most other independent filmmakers lack, I would still regard Coppola as a trendsetter in the indie movement. Lost in Translation’s handheld cinematography, for instance, is reminiscent of earlier independent films of the 90’s in that Coppola entered public spaces with easy-to-maneuver equipment that allowed for efficiency while also promoting a singular artistic vision. Sofia Coppola proves through her techniques that female filmmakers can be just as powerful, if not more so, than their male counterparts.
I’m hoping to enter the film industry at some point in my life, and this film has more than certainly cemented my passion for the art of filmmaking and my understanding of how it can change lives. Sofia Coppola is one of my greatest inspirations as a female artist. She should be a prominent figure for any woman either in or interested in the entertainment industry, as she is a strong-willed person who has stories that need to be told. Coppola is more than driven to get her narratives out to the world, and she accomplishes this as a woman in a very male-centric field.
Lost in Translation is an inspirational film, if anything. It has proven to me that connecting with others is worthwhile, regardless of the situation presented. Even though Bob and Charlotte likely won’t be able to communicate after they leave Tokyo, what they shared there is real and that is what matters. The film has shown me a new way of seeing the world, and with this fresh outlook, I know that it is a beautiful place.
5 out of 5 stars