Lost in Translation (2003)

Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson

Directed by: Sofia Coppola

Rating: 1 2 3 and a half

'Just wanna be that someone you weren't looking for,
Some nameless fascination that showed up at your door.
And when you're sad and blue my jokes still make you smile.
And I could be with you awhile.'

Alice Cooper, Be With You Awhile
Sleepless in Tokyo: Bill Murray is Lost In Translation

Set in the neon city of Tokyo, Lost In Translation depicts a perfectly crafted slice of life: the moment when two very different people, whose lives are on very different trajectories, briefly connect.

Veteran comedy star Billy Murray plays Bob Harris - no, not the sibilant DJ, but an aging movie hero in the style of Roger Moore who, despite not having made a film since the 1970s, has somehow landed himself a two million dollar contract to advertise Japanese whisky. Ubiquitous face of 2004 Scarlett Johansson plays Charlotte, a dilettante philosophy graduate accompanying her boyish photographer husband to Tokyo because she has nothing better to do.

On the face of it, the jaded old actor and beautiful young graduate with her whole life ahead of her have nothing much in common... Doh! Of course they do.

Both, for starters, are dissatisfied with their respective partners and find the closeted hotel existence they're living unnatural, pointless and conducive to insomnia. Charlotte's hubby subjects her to tedious drinks evenings with vapid people she neither knows nor likes, before abandoning her entirely for a photo shoot, whilst Bob's wife faxes him pictures of shelving units and Fed-Exes him carpet samples for his study. Whilst Bob spends his free time sinking whiskys in the hotel bar, Charlotte wanders aimlessly round Buddhist temples or sits in her increasingly untidy room listening to self-help tapes. Neither seem to have any purpose to their life; neither knows where they are going, who they are or who they want to be.

And so, sleepless and fed up, the pair collide in the hotel bar and an unusual friendship blossoms, the kind of friendship that would never have sprung up anywhere else, and which would never be sustainable away from the extraordinary circumstances in which they find themselves. And as such, it makes perfect material for a movie: think Brief Encounter meets The Breakfast Club and you've more or less got the picture.

Touching, funny and beautifully observed, the best thing about Lost In Translation is the heartfelt performances from the lead characters. Anyone my age has to have a bit of a soft spot for Bill Murray (c'mon guys - Ghostbusters!) but by any standards he gives a fine, brilliantly nuanced performance as Bob (but then again he did snaffle the Golden Globe Award out from under Johnny's nose so I'd bloody hope he'd be good! (but hey, Johnny, don't be down, there's always the Oscars... Anyway...). Every wry look, self-deprecating gesture and sudden burst of manic energy is perfectly timed and utterly credible, whilst his comic turns filming his ad and struggling in the hotel gym are genuinely funny.

The beautiful Scarlett Johansson in Lost In Translation

Scarlett Johansson shines also, blessed with the kind of unassuming natural beauty you don't get to see on screen that often and which complements to perfection her unaffected screen presence. Everything about her portrayal of Charlotte is both familiar and convincing: stifled and moody in the company of her clingy husband, she sparkles when let off the leash and allowed to be herself, hanging out with her own friends and Bob. Selfish, waspish, insecure, perceptive and appealing, the character is in fact based on Sofia Coppola herself, a spoilt New York rich kid who can't make up her mind what she wants to do because she doesn't have to. Like Coppola, Charlotte has dabbled in writing and photography (it's a stage all girls through apparently, like horses) - let's just hope when she returns to the US she discovers film making, so the story can have a happy ending.

All that said, Lost In Translation is not a perfect film. The pace does tend to drag occasionally (I didn't feel the need for quite so much karaoke, for example) and at times it did feel as if we were watching an extended episode of Tarrant On TV (hey folks - the Japanese are like really weird!) but all in all if it's a low key evening, a few laughs and a story that will touch your heart you're after, Lost In Translation will be just your cup of chai.

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