Bill Murray has been appearing mostly in independent films and as cameos in bigger budget films. For Lost in Translation (2003) director Sofia Coppola wrote the lead role specifically for Bill Murray, and later said that if Murray turned it down, she wouldn't have done the movie. In fact, she wasn’t even sure if Bill Murray was going to do the film, only having a verbal confirmation. It was on the first day of filming that Murray actually showed up.
Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is an American film actor who is far past his prime. He visits Tokyo, Japan to appear in some celebrity endorsed commercials. While at his hotel he meets Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), the young wife of a visiting photographer. Charlotte is trying to find her place in life, and Bob is tolerating a mediocre marriage back in the States. Charlotte is puzzled with how much her husband, John (Giovanni Ribisi), has changed in their two years of marriage, while she's been unable to launch a creative career of her own. The spark has gone out of Bob's marriage, and he's become disillusioned with his career. Bob and Charlotte end up being perfect, yet improbable traveling companions. Both suffer confusion and some amusing antics due to the cultural and language barriers between themselves and the Japanese. As their companionship deepens, they come to the realization that their visits to Japan (and each other) will soon end. But does it need to?
Murray’s and Johansson’s characters were both well developed and interesting. Bob was inundated with mundane domestics; even while he was in Japan, his wife sent him carpet samples though FedEx so he could decide what color to re-carpet the home office. She also faxed him samples of shelves to decide how to redecorate their home. Phone calls with his wife usually involved her being frantic about home decorations and screaming children, and not listening to anything Bob has to say.
Charlotte is stuck at a hotel while her negligent husband is doing photo shoots for celebrities. He doesn’t seem interested in his wife of only 2 years. When Charlotte and John run into a celebrity acquaintance (played by Anna Faris), John jumps at the opportunity to do a one-on-one “photo shoot” with her and tells Charlotte that “he'll be working, and she won't have a good time if she comes along with him.” So Charlotte is constantly left on her own to mope around the hotel and wonder what her place in life is.
These are relatable issues, yet other issues bring to mind the “First World Problems” internet jokes where pictures of people crying are coupled with captions like, “had to park far from the door.” Bob is a celebrity! Who hasn’t dreamed of being interviewed on talk shows, having people snap photos of you, and asking for your autograph? Charlotte is visiting Japan! What percentage of Americans get to travel overseas, let alone to Japan? If I were there I’d be on the streets every day touring and exploring everything I could, regardless of how busy my self-absorbed spouse was. That was a theme in the movie; the attitude you have towards events in your life really affect your feelings about life. These characters were literally doing what many people dream of and were still despondent.
Over the course of the film, several things get “lost in translation.” In a particularly funny scene while Bob is working on a commercial, the Japanese director uses lots of hand gestures and long bits of instructions in Japanese. An interpreter translates this to Bob as, “He wants you to turn, look in camera. OK?” Bob looks bewildered and asks, “…is that all he said?” The characters themselves are lost, too; lost in the alien Japanese culture, lost in their own lives, and lost in their relationships.
The relationship that Bob and Charlotte form is interesting. It’s almost expected that if (in movies) two characters of the opposite sex form a relationship it will always be a sexual one, maybe even a romantic one. But the relationship that Bob and Charlotte form is a platonic relationship. They share something deeply personal with each other; their true feelings, rather than something as commonplace as their genitals. Their relationship was fascinating to see, and I would love to see more relationships like this in movies. In fact, the only sexually explicit content in the movie is some topless strippers in the background when the two are exploring Tokyo.
The scenery captured in Lost in Translation is so gorgeous! There are strange locations that captivated the feel of Japan, and the movie really explored Japanese culture. In the context of the characters being tremendously out of place, everything looked amazing and defies description. From simple family-run restaurants to flashy casinos and arcades to tranquil Zen monasteries, everything was eye-catching and beautiful to see. I’m ready to go visit.
Lost in Translation was a good movie, though I don’t think it would appeal to everyone. It’s pretty slow moving and dramatic. The visuals are stunning, and I think it’s worth watching for that aspect. Most of the “adult” elements (apart from the previously mentioned strippers) are only talked about, not visually depicted. It’s a fairly clean movie. It ended with the characters simply feeling better, but their problems remained unresolved. That felt a bit anticlimactic, but still complimented the theme of attitude affecting your view of life. This was a well done movie, but I wouldn’t rush out to see it unless you enjoy drama films.
Can you think of a movie that really captivates the essence of a certain culture? What's the movie and what's the culture? Comment below and tell me about it!