Lost in Translation
directed by Sofia Coppola
(Universal, 2003)

It's hard to believe this guy was once known for riffing on the various uses -- legal and otherwise -- of golf course turf in 1980's Caddyshack. It's the same guy who was an astonishingly awful Star Wars-singing lounge singer on Saturday Night Live.

Now, he's just a Golden Globe-winning Oscar nominee for his work in Lost in Translation.

And, even more than an outsider's look at Tokyo and a realistic, non-exploitative romance/friendship, Bill Murray is the reason to see Lost in Translation. In fact, he's enough reason all by himself.

Murray's Bob Harris is an actor whose career has been frittered away, whose marriage is feeling distant and who's stationed in Tokyo for a few days on a simple proposition: get your photo taken for a whiskey ad and fly home $2 million richer.

He bumps into another American at his hotel, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson, a double Golden Globe nominee), who's feeling lost in Tokyo for a different reason: her sole purpose for being there is to spend time with her new husband (Giovanni Ribisi) -- but he's too busy with his photography career to really tune in to anything Charlotte's feeling.

Husband John's emotional distance from Charlotte becomes physical when he heads out of the city on assignment and Charlotte's left to her own devices. There's listless sightseeing, insomnia and, finally, a conversation with Bob that leads to a night out on the town, more conversation and....

And it's no spoiler to say that, if they end up in bed, the entire tenor of Lost will change -- and not for the better. It's where you expect their scenario to go. But chalk it up to Sofia Coppola that where Bob and Charlotte go is infinitely more interesting than yet another "53-year-old man romances a 19-year-old woman" storyline.

Instead, Coppola, who both directed and wrote the screenplay, has been nominated for a trio of Oscars (and won a Golden Globe) presumably because she went down the road less traveled.

We get a look at two people, separated from everything they know, immersed in a culture in which even the street signs, not only in a different language but a different script, bear no clue to their meaning. Totally out of their element, their usual crutches (except liquor) and camouflage aren't of any use.

Lost in Translation is a triumph of little moments -- there are long stretches without dialogue, and it's not really a film about anything. Even the most trite moments, like when Bob's attempt at using a treadmill goes horribly, hilariously awry, have a magic. It's due largely to Johansson and to Murray, whose Groundhog Day and Rushmore first hinted at the sad sweetness that's gotten deeper and more pronounced with time.

And at the end, viewers don't feel cheated: we've gotten the conclusion we -- and Bob and Charlotte -- deserve.

- Rambles
written by Jen Kopf
published 29 May 2004

Buy it from Amazon.com.