FIVE STAR FILMS #18: Lost in Translation (2003)

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Loved by so many and despised by a seemingly equal amount, Lost In Translation is a director realising her potential.  A simple story detailing the lives of two very different Americans – one about to embark on a brand new life, the other at the tail end of it all – in the strangest land of all for Western civilization, Japan.  It is a film that can only be watched after midnight as the characters wade through the darkness that is their own uncertainty.  Only when you are alone in the dark do the films themes of isolation, loneliness and ennui pop into your head and make you wonder about the state of your life.  It is for these reasons that I consider it a five star film.


1. Bill Fucking Murray

Chased by director Sofia Coppola for months before he said yes, Murray makes the film entirely.  That’s not to discredit Scarlett Johansson whatsoever, her withdrawn Charlotte certainly making an impact of its own, but when you’re up against a man with such talent and experience you accept the only possibility of finishing second best.

He turns dull Bob Harris, an aging movie star (and perhaps a glimpse of Murray’s own future if a few things hadn’t gone his way) into a rich wealth of human emotion and frailty.  He’s forced to endure the most embarrassing and demeaning television experiences and we’re with him all the way, reading underneath his forced camera smile as he thinks about what colour the rug should be for the new study back home.

2. My Bloody Valentine

I could specify ‘soundtrack’ once more but we all know this really means the My Bloody Valentine song Sometimes.  It was the moment all your friends ditched their My Chemical Romance discs and swore allegiance to the indie noise sound despite having never heard it before.  It was irritating to you but you didn’t care – this song kicked ass and sounds like after closing time, when all the poets come out to sing.

3. Sofia Coppola

Her follow up, Somewhere, won a bunch of awards thanks to her ex Quentin Tarantino but the press wasn’t so kind.  Personally I loved that too but it felt like Lost In Translation re-shot in a sunny setting.  She’s got a decent resume to her name but this was the height of her power, the moment when she proved she was more than Daddy’s Little Girl.  Her use of a slow camera to complement a subtle script is something all independent filmmakers should learn from.With this, she has created one of the leading films that negate monogamy completely.  Coppola is aware of the world around her and understands lifelong happiness is an unachievable goal and communicates this perfectly through all the tools at her disposal.

4. “More … intensity!”

The most hilarious scene of 2003, the subtlety went over most people’s heads even though it was bleatingly obvious to all of us.  Murray is forced to combat his way through the ineptitude (or sheer fear) of the translator who is unwilling to communicate everything the local director is asking of him.  Taking matters into his own hands he turns the advertisement shoot for Suntory Time into a stand-up gig, amusing himself at the cost of confusing the rest of the cast.  And the director keeps cutting and cutting and cutting and cutting and…

5. What did they say?

The most beautiful thing about this film, of which there are many other moments, is the finale where he chases her down in the street to give a proper goodbye.  They share a whisper that is deliberately inaudible and it makes you sit up to ask, “What did they say?”  It’s purely for the characters that inhabit that universe and only something that Murray, Johansson and Coppola knew about for years after.  Similar to the ending in Haneke’s Cache, some things are meant to solely exist in a world we don’t live in.