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Don’t pass it off as a ‘romantic comedy’

Chris Kepner | Tuesday, March 2, 2004

Lost in Translation documents the experiences of two Americans in Japan, where the culture shock forces them both to look at their lives a little differently. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is a recent Yale graduate and wife of two years who is struggling to find her calling in life and finding that she and her husband (Giovanni Ribisi) might not have been the best match. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a moderately successful actor who says he’s in Japan for a few reasons: “Taking a break from my wife, forgetting my son’s birthday and getting paid two million dollars to endorse a whiskey when I could be doing a play somewhere.” Sounds like your typical love story, right?It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that writer and director Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides) won this year’s Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. The dialogue is superb. There isn’t a single line in the film that sounds awkward or in any way unnatural. The themes are dealt with tastefully and the points driven home without being overdone. Coppola should be applauded for creating a romance that is surprisingly original among a seemingly endless drone of formulated cheese.The beautiful imagery will both shock and inspire you. The skyline shots of Tokyo are simply amazing, and Charlotte’s curious explorations provide a provocative glimpse of the country and its culture. These days, too many American films that take place in cities outside of the United States either depict the culture in a disgustingly American way or ignore it entirely. It is obvious that Coppola’s intention was to go against this trend, and she certainly succeeds at doing so. She must have spent a great deal of time in Japan prior to making this film. Lost in Translation is neither pro-Japanese nor anti-Japanese, but it strives to portray Japan as a place that, as Bob says, is “very, very different.” It is left up to the viewer to judge for him or herself one way or the other.Bill Murray puts on a performance that was worthy of an Oscar nomination, and for many he was the pick to win Best Actor. One opinion as to why Sean Penn was picked over him is that Bob Harris’ character is too similar to Murray himself. Johansson (The Horse Whisperer, The Man Who Wasn’t There) is extremely impressive to watch. She plays Charlotte with such gracious realism that it takes a great deal of effort on the part of the viewer to avoid falling in love with her. Giovanni Ribisi (Boiler Room, Saving Private Ryan) also plays his role wonderfully as Charlotte’s husband, John, the photographer who gradually alienates his wife as he becomes more and more full of himself and his work.The video and audio qualities of the DVD are both fantastic, as can be expected from most DVDs these days. A few deleted scenes are available, but nothing terribly exciting. In the actual film, Bob Harris appears on a Japanese talk show called Matthew’s Best Hit TV. On the DVD, one of the bonus materials allows you to watch the talk show as it would have been broadcasted, which is actually really funny. There is also an interesting conversation with Murray and Sophia Coppola that gives their personal insights into the film.Lost in Translation is a highly recommended addition to your DVD collection.