Monday, March 08, 2004
Movie Unreview: Lost In Translation 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
Regular visitors at farkleberries may remember one of my side projects, a movie-review blog named Reeling It All In. After trying to keep up with all the current films and posting reviews of everything I saw in the theater or rented, I realized Reeling... had reached the point of diminishing returns, for the simple fact that there are thousands of wannabe Roger Eberts like myself on the Web. The hours-spent-writing-to-readers ratio was just a bit too high for comfort, and I concluded that my energies were better spent blogging than reviewing films. However, I still like to post about movies on occasion, so I now present you with a movie un-review:

Lost In Translation is a quiet gem of a movie, with Bill Murray as a has-been movie star reduced to shilling Suntory whiskey in Japan, and Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte, the alienated young wife of a jet-set photographer. Helmed by Coppola scion Sofia, the film dryly and humorously observes the permeating pain of cultural and existential isolation.

Murray's Bob Harris is using the Japan gig as an excuse to "take a vacation" from his marriage of 25 years, glimpsed in chilly faxes and phone calls from home consisting of remodeling questions ("I really love the burgundy carpet - but, whatever you want.") and pointed resentments couched as "well, the children miss their father..." No "I love you"s or "I miss you"s are exchanged: the relationship is purely business at this point. Charlotte's (Johansson) callow twenty-something husband (Giovanni Ribisi) is continually away at fashion shoots and club parties, leaving her to navigate the Ginza concrete jungle alone. She spends her days seeking beauty and peace in Japanese-only ikebana classes, and wistfully observing traditional weddings at a Zen garden.

The film shows us American culture warped through the lens of perhaps the other most pop-culture obsessed nation on the planet. It's a hilarious, not-too-pretty reflection, like the greenish, purple-splotched face that stares back at you in a fluorescent-lit motel room mirror. Murray stands out as the too-tall American action cowboy (literally, in an early scene where he's about a foot taller than all the Japanese businessmen sharing the elevator) in a land where nobody speaks his language, even the other Americans in town for various reasons. The only other human tuned in to his frequency is Charlotte, who casually buys Bob a drink at the hotel bar one evening, while her starstruck husband flirts with a starlet at their own table.

We continually wonder whether Charlotte and Bob's fast friendship will cross the line into a full-blown affair, but somehow it never does; what these two lonely souls are craving is genuine human connection, not mere erotic adventure. We see here an example that sometimes complete strangers can see us in finer focus than do "loved ones" whose affiliation needs reading glasses. Though Charlotte is young enough to be Bob's daughter, they forge an authentic bond: their planets circle and orbits feel the pull, and both emerge changed for the better. It's a really good movie, with a fascinating, unpredictably-unfolding plot. I'm sorry I missed it the first time around in theaters, but it's not too late to rent. Highly recommended: 4-and-a-half out of five whiskey glasses.