Lost in Translation (2003) movie review [re-watch]

For those who haven’t seen this Sofia Coppola modern classic, the premise follows two Americans who are temporarily in Japan. Upon repeatedly bumping into each other in the hotel they share, they form a friendship to help them each through their difficult times.

The first time I watched this film, I wasn’t too fond of it – expecting more to happen, a romance to develop, and more comedic scenes. Perhaps I was just not the right age to appreciate the nature of this wonderful feature, but what’s certain is that I expected this film to follow the lame tropes many modern films follow. However, what’s enjoyable about this film is the realism; the whole thing follows the nature of two lonely people who happen to stumble into one another’s lives. While Bill Murray’s character is strolling through a mid-life crisis, finding himself underwhelmed by where his career has lead him, and the lack of love shared between him and his family, we find Scarlett Johansson’s character is questioning her unfulfilled marriage as she tries to figure out what she wants to do with her life.

While it may seem from a simple description that the feature will not be very enjoyable through lack of entertainment, a simple description cannot capture the charm this film holds; both roles are extremely well performed (would you expect anything less from Murray, though?), and respectively really capture all the emotion of someone who is lost as to where to take their life, and feeling outside of everything around them.

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Life can be a very daunting thing to experience, even with a goal or plan ahead of you; but when you have little that interests you, and you become increasingly dis-attached from the people in your life, that daunting feeling is followed with fear and isolation. In those times while you struggle to find something you can relate to once more, it can be easy to forget that a little understanding company can make all the difference in getting you by while you figure yourself out. As our protagonists find something they can temporarily relate to, in a country they hardly fit into, you begin to understand how necessary companionship through hard times can really make a difference.

One of my favourite aspects of this feature is the lack of dialogue. To some, that may sound quite boring, but I feel it really makes the feature more relate-able for the audience. While many films are made purely for escapism, so the viewer can leave their reality behind for a while and they can engulf themselves temporarily in a life they don’t lead, some are best made with realism behind them to allow the audience to think about life in relation to film. As the wondrous Hayao Miyazaki explained about his ground breaking best seller film, Spirited Away (2001), that there are many scenes in between all the noise and plot where the protagonist and her surrounding scenery is calm (often with her looking into the distance), because a film needs moments of quiet between the action to allow the audience to take in what they’ve seen and appreciate everything. I feel this is well shown throughout Lost in Translation as well, as there are many scenes inter cut of a character calming enjoying something alone, or walking through a quiet park, while other scenes will have them running and surrounded by traffic on the streets and roads. It reminds you that life isn’t always filled with things happening, and sometimes you need to enjoy the solitude as much as the excitement.

I know a few people who’ve said the don’t like this film because they were let down by the fact they didn’t involve themselves with one another romantically. As I said earlier, I also expected this to happen upon my first viewing and was confused as to why they didn’t hook up. After another watch, I realised that there is no reason for them to start a relationship beyond what they have: a supportive friendship. Because of this expectation, I think many people under appreciate what the characters do share, and it makes life seem a lot more fake to me. There are many times where you will find you may share great chemistry with another person, but that doesn’t mean you need to start dating and possibly ruin the great relationship you already have. I stumbled across a quote from Miyazaki (that’s the last time I mention him in this review, I swear) that perfectly sums this up:

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I believe this is exactly what Coppola’s intention was between her most famous characters.

As is the way with any of Copolla’s features, the cinematography in this movie is beautiful and really something to aspire to for many film makers, in my opinion. I would go as far as to say that majority of the feature is something I would gladly have a frame of on my wall, from scenes where Johannson is gazing out of her hotel window, to Murray walking down a busy Tokyo street. The whole thing from start to finish is truly beautiful to watch. If the film itself doesn’t interest you, I’d urge anyone to watch it for the cinematography alone!

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