Lost In Translation

Sophia Coppola's Lost In Translation shows that she is set to join her father as one of American cinema's most interesting filmmakers.

By James Rogan

In Tokyo to film an advert for a Japanese whisky, dislocated celebrity Bob Harris (Bill Murray) finds solace in the company of a young, savvy New Yorker, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson). This delicate and fresh reworking of Brief Encounter is really two films. The first film is a faintly embarrassing travel comedy in which two Americans show up the camp, crass excesses of Japanese culture. The second film is a touching love story between two people who feel alienated from the people around them. In the meeting of these two films, Sophia Coppola has constructed an achingly funny film about the tragedy of superiority.

Both Murray and Johansson brilliantly convey characters who feel instinctively superior to everybody else, which is not hard in a film where everybody else is a stereotype. Thankfully not only the Japanese are two-dimensional, Charlotte's husband (Giovanni Ribsi) is a gloriously shallow, self-obsessed photographer (Coppola's delicious revenge on ex-hubby Spike Jonze). The humour of condescension is easy, as our own David Brent can testify, and early on it threatens to ground the film in tastelessness, but Coppola's direction carefully draws the audience away from the jabs at the Japanese and dumb Americans into the loneliness of the protagonists. Trapped in a soul-destroying hotel of evil running machines (Bill Murray is still a master of physical comedy) and terrifying lounge music, Harris and Charlotte become allies in solitude. They isolate themselves partly through their own conceit and partly through their own ignorance (they make no attempt to understand their new environment). Coppola paints Tokyo in all its neon cleanliness as a gilded prison, the perfect mirror for the disaffection of her characters.

Johansson captures the right mix of selfishness and vulnerability in Charlotte‘s mid-twenties crisis. Murray's dog-eared face and puppy-dog eyes have never been so funny or so sad. It is one of those performances where halfway through the movie you recognise the character as somebody from your own life, even if no such person has ever crossed your path. If at times not as refined as it thinks it is, this is a rare American movie, sentimental and subtle, a great love story.
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