Dir: Sofia Coppola. US. 2003. 105 mins.
Sofia Coppola proves defiantly that she really is a chip off the old block with her second feature, Lost In Translation. An enormously accomplished, highly affecting story of loneliness and human connection, the film possesses an originality, style and generosity which will assure it a big fan base among audiences and critics, not to mention two superior performances from Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson which are likely to earn awards recognition at year's end.
Then there is the third star of the film - its extraordinary Tokyo setting. Set and beautifully shot by Lance Acord in the rooms, bar and corridors of the Park Hyatt Hotel and the streets, subways and bars of the city itself, Lost In Translation is an ode of sorts to the Japanese capital. Rarely has a western film been shot there and never with such fondness as here.
Coppola is unlike the other wunderkinds of her generation - her husband Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson, Alexander Payne or David O Russell - in that she doesn't opt for quirkiness or eccentricity to tell her stories. Lost In Translation, she says, was inspired by Antonioni and while it has none of Antonioni's elusiveness or sweep, it has the confidence to emulate his subtlety and old-fashioned pacing. No emotions here are signposted or over-emphasised, and the sparse screenplay leaves it up to the actors and Coppola's unrushed camera to tell us what is really happening.
In fact, for all its charm, the film is little more than a moment in the lives of its two chief protagonists. Murray is a movie star called Bob Harris visiting Japan to shoot a lucrative whiskey commercial, Johansson is Charlotte, the Ivy League-educated wife of a photographer (Ribisi) who is in Tokyo on assignment and paying her little attention.
Each is feeling disconnected from their lives and their partners, a feeling exacerbated by the fact that they are stuck in a skyscraper hotel in an alien city environment.
Harris shoots his commercial - displaying a marked ennui with the whole venture - and is asked to stay on for a chatshow appearance, a request he reluctantly accepts. His wife is constantly contacting him about details of the re-modeling of their LA house, but he is uninterested.
Sitting in the bar of the hotel, he sees a kindred spirit in Charlotte, the twenty-something sitting unhappily as her husband is enthralled by a shallow rock star (Faris) and her entourage. The two start chatting and immediately empathise with each other's situation.
When Charlotte's husband leaves town for a few days on a shoot, Charlotte and Bob venture out into the city together, go to a party, a bar, hang out in each other's rooms. As the week draws to a close, there is a connection between them which could be romantic.
By the film's end, nothing really has taken place, and Bob and Charlotte go their separate ways. But along the way, Coppola movingly captures in their relationship that all-powerful human need for connection and companionship. She achieves it in a pleasurably understated way, which has already of course had Americans calling the film 'European'!
There is little European about Murray, one of America's finest comic talents who generates some laugh-out-loud-funny moments while portraying a memorably authentic character in Bob. Johansson, whose dynamic presence has already been felt in several films, is every bit his match. With her striking looks and throaty voice, the actress shows a maturity which marks her out one of the brightest American actresses at work on screen today.
Prod cos: American Zoetrope, Elemental Films, Focus Features in association with Tohokushinsha.
US dist: Focus Features.
Int'l sales: Focus Features.
Exec prods: Francis Ford Coppola, Fred Roos.
Prods: Ross Katz, Sofia Coppola.
DoP: Lance Acord.
Prod des: Anne Ross, KK Barrett.
Music prod: Brian Reitzell.
Main cast: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris