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Lost In Translation

August 10, 2006

The reason why Lost In Translation is such a brilliant film is because it is clearly about people who don’t say anything. And the reason why it is ingenious is because these characters say exactly what they want to say without opening their mouths and actually saying it. This might be due to the fantastic people behind the movie; Sofia Coppola has some real talent, and you almost wouldn’t have believed she was the little girl from the Godfather. And while Bill Murray is no spring chicken, he surely knows how to act any role and still has the talent left in him to star in whatever kind of movie he wants. He might just be my favorite actor. Scarlette Johansson is quite the up and coming star, and considering she was only seventeen when she was in this movie, she did an absolutely spectacular job. To be honest, it’s not that often that a movie with such big stars does such a good job. And in such an independent film type of environment too. This isn’t a big name drama, it’s not a love story or a chick flick, it’s a movie that really tries to say something. And it plays off of the viewers outlook as well and really gets them involved. And for a movie that features people who don’t talk, the viewer ends up knowing about the characters and loving them enough to truly get what they were supposed to out of the movie. The imagery, great dialogue, and realistic characters are enough to make this one of my favorite movies ever.

For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.

These are the words that Bob Harris is told to say “with intensity” on the set of a commercial for whisky. Bob used to be a huge movie star in the seventies, actually much like Bill Murray, and he has traveled to Tokyo Japan to endorse a whisky that he ends up drinking every night in the bar of his expensive hotel. He has a family, as evidenced at first by the fax he gets at four in the morning from his wife asking for his advice on what shelves to buy for his study. Bob is not only charismatic, but also witty, and he can hold up a conversation with someone very well, even someone who does not speak the same language as he does. Although he seems to have trouble communicating with his wife back home. It is pretty obvious that he loves his wife, and his kids too, but his wife does not quite seem to love him back and their relationship is slowly drifting away. While Bob is a middle aged guy who is probably going through a midlife crisis, he seems practical to the point where he probably never really grew up in a certain part of his mind enough to really merit being described as “middle aged.” The phrase is a tad misleading anyway, because it is connected with a lot of stereotypes. Like Porsches.

I’m in pain, I got my foot banged up. Wanna see it?

Charlotte is a young newlywed fresh out of college, visting Tokyo with her husband John. John is a photographer and ends up being pretty busy on the trip, so Charlotte is sort of on her own most of the time. She is a very short spoken person, who enjoys making conversation but doesn’t seem to be too much good at it. But beyond that, she is a kind caring person who seems to lean towards an idealistic personality more than practicality. She seems to enjoy wandering, as the country is a new place, and hanging around the hotel is a little boring. But she does that too, and only then does she realize that her life may not be going in the ideal direction. Her husband is really a twit who does not care to know her, while she is struggling to know him. Even a phone call to a personal friend lets her know that maybe no one really knows her.

When you think about it, the two are very different. Bob is old enough to Charlottes father, maybe older. And while Bob clearly loves everyday conversation, Charlotte is a little more shy and isn’t quite used to talking to strangers who are thirty years older than she is. But really, they are more simmilar than different, and at that, more simmilar to one another than they are to their own spouses, at least as far as the viewer sees. They are both very kind and easygoing and a little confused with which way their lives should be going. While Bob is a middle aged former star actor who doesn’t really know where he’s going, Charlotte is a very young but very lost person who doesn’t know where she is going. And beyond that, both of them are confused because they are in a place that really doesn’t make sense, and both of them are horribly jet lagged and can’t get any sleep at all. And that leaves Bob in the bar drinking the whisky that he is endorsing and Charlotte sitting next to him smoking cigarettes. Two Americans in Japan.

A lot of the fun in this movie comes from the humor. Bob Harris is a hilarious character who is constantly wisecracking or making witty comments. And when he is not, he is melancholy and trying to figure out aspects of the culture that are giving him troubles. The funny thing is, I’m almost certain that Bill Murray is like Bob Harris in real life. I have seen him in many interviews and he acts very simmilar, and some of the lines in the movie from him were even improvised.. In fact, Sofia Coppola wrote the part specifically for Bill Murray. Charlotte does the same kind of exploring, though through curious observation. And while he is a pill, Charlottes husband John is really an ingenious character. The actor, Giovanni Ribisi, did a great job on him. Really, he is a character that many people will not understand, and those people will be the kinds of people that are simmilar to him. He is rather clueless and even a little heartless, and he simply doesn’t care about Charlotte enough to stay with her and keep her company. The relationship is clearly shakey, but really only due to him and his lack of understanding and interest in his own wife. The way he talks, moves, and communicates is enough to make any viewer cringe and scoff. He’s a twit, that’s all there is to it. But sadly, there are people like him in this world, and that’s what makes his character so great and funny.

I tried taking pictures, but they were so mediocre. I guess every girl goes through a photography phase.

And a lot of what makes this movie truly great is the imagery. Anyone who watches this movie will want to go to Japan, I’m sure of it. The camera work and the amazing shots of urban Tokyo and even some more natural areas later are impeccable. What Sofia Coppola has essentially done is immersed her actors in an ocean of neon. Yes, how the characters react is really the heart of this movie, but the soul is quite simply the imagery. I was blown away the second and third times just as much as the first by the absolutely beautiful visions of the city and it’s bright lights, bustling people, etc. It got the Oscar for best screenplay written directly for a movie, actually. I can’t think of a film more deserving.

What Bob and Charlotte end up doing to remedy their sleeplessness and boredom is venture out and experience authentic Tokyo nightlife. They spend some time at clubs, in arcades, and in other exotic and beautiful locales out in the city. One of the better scenes in the movie is when the two are running out into a busy intersection wondering where they should go next. But the entire nightime sequence is great, and it really makes you feel like Charlottes random invitation for Bob meant something.

I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be.

You’ll figure that out. The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.

You could make hundreds of arguements on what this movie is really about. In reality, it is about a myriad of things. It is about direction in life, and it is about what life really means. It is also about what really matters to people, and about not speaking your mind. The direction in life thing is very touching, as both characters aren’t really sure what they should be doing with themselves. A conversation that the two have one night really sticks. Bob talks about what his life is like now that he is older, and how beautiful his children are, and how even though you may not have the relationships with people you wish you did, things can still turn out okay. But I still stand by my statement, this movie really is about people who don’t say much. And yet they still end up getting out everything they need to. The other main thing it is about is friendship. Both Bob and Charlotte see things in one another that they don’t see in their spouses. Perhaps that is some kind of vague understanding. They both know their spouses, and they both care about them to some degree, but neither of their spouses really understand who they are as people. The relationship that Bob and Charlotte have is one of some type of outsider understanding. They are only going to be around one another for so long, and that means they can play off of one another in whatever way they want. They can say and not say what they please. And in addition to that, they can come to an understanding with one another that feels comfortable but not overdeveloped. For this reason, the friendship between these two characters is friendship in it’s most natural and primal state. Yes, a lot of what the characters feel in this movie is not said. Sometimes they just exude emotions that they don’t say, and that becomes part of the melancholy. The viewer will almost be talking to the screen, “say thank you, say you are a great friend,” and all that jazz. But the conclusion of this movie is what is most striking, where while the viewer might not necessarilly understand it, what needs to be said clearly is said and both people seem very happy and satisfied, so it doesn’t really matter what. And that is part of the beauty of this film.

The music is also worth noting. I first saw this movie over a year and a half ago, and the soundtrack is what really started to diversify my tastes. And things I have reviewed here reflect that. The Jesus And Mary Chain, My Bloody Valentine, Air, all of that great music. I’d give the soundtrack a solid ten out of ten too. Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine actually arranged the soundtrack and did four original pieces himself. And anyone who knows me knows I’m totally obsessed with My Bloody Valentine right now. I’m practically mentioning them every post, and I will no doubt do more reviews of their work. A lot of the soundtrack is divied up between pleasent little blurbs that create an atmosphere and very fitting full length songs. No one will ever pretend that the ending sequence when Just Like Honey is played isn’t absolutely gorgeous.

Anyway, it’s a fantastic film and it is one of my favorites ever, standing up there with One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest and Edward Scissorhands. However, you need to understand that this movie isn’t quite for everyone. I would like to think of myself as midway between practical and artistic and I absolutely adored this film. But I think very practical people who don’t understand fine art would probably think to themselves, “what is this? It’s a movie about nothing.” But if you just take it all in, I have a feeling every viewer gets something different out of it. For a purchase I’d give this a ten out of ten easily. I was worried at first because I got the full screen version and some people bitched to me about how I should have gotten the widescreen edition. So I did. I seriously just went out and bought the widescreen edition and gave the full screen version to my dad who gave me the minisucle amount of money it cost. He wanted a copy anyway. Now everyones happy. The special features are cool, and it includes a documentary on the filming called “Lost On Location,” and also some other goodies like deleted and extended scenes, the full version of the talk show scene, and some other stuff.

See this movie. That’s all I’m going to say. Unless maybe you are a really sharp critic, or are just flat out heartless.

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