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Bob Harris is a
Hollywood movie star whose peak days seem a thing of the past. His
career is failing, and the only thing he has in common with his wife
these days seems to be their kids. This is how he rather reluctantly
finds himself in Tokyo, shooting an ad campaign for a Japanese whiskey.
Unable to get a good night's sleep in his coldly swank hotel room, he
spends his days struggling to comprehend the mangled English of the
people he's working with, and his nights sitting around in the hotel bar
all by his lonesome. In the elevator one day, he spots a pretty blonde
amidst the crowd of dark-haired Japanese. Like Bob, the young woman
doesn't quite seem to belong. Her name is Charlotte, though he doesn't
learn that right then, and she too is an American who's been feeling
lonely and disoriented in these bizarre new surroundings. Charlotte's
husband is a hot young photographer who spends days on end busy with his
work shooting a band. Charlotte mostly waits, and alternates between
staring off into space in her hotel room and meandering around the city,
all the while struggling with the typical post-college twenty-something
dilemma of figuring out what she wants to be. When Bob and Charlotte
strike up a conversation in the hotel bar one evening, there's an
immediate connection, despite the vast difference in age. Soon, the city
that at first seemed so alien suddenly becomes the perfect backdrop for
Bob and Charlotte to get to know each other, and rediscover themselves.
My kind of romantic isn't the fairy tale,
riding-off-together-in-the-sunset variety. It's a feeling more like a
soft sigh than a loud awwww; there's a sadness that lingers along with
the warm fuzzies. That perfect romantic moment, it's a rare gift that
takes you out of the same old same old of your everyday existence: and
even as you're immersed in it there's that tiny little feeling of
knowing that it's slipping into memory with every second that passes.
Romantic is fleeting: this is what makes it so amazing when you manage
to grab hold of it at all. Sofia Coppola's Lost in Translation is
the epitome of this kind of romantic, and watching it makes me so happy
I could cry. All those trailers that paint it as a comedy about a white
guy's perspective on the oddities of Japanese culture get it all wrong.
That's all there -- and Bill Murray is absolutely laugh-out loud
hilarious as fish-out-of-the-water Bob Harris -- but the ha-has aren't
the heart that guides the film. Nor is it a real character study; we
don't leave the film feeling like we know a whole lot about either
Murray's Bob or Scarlett Johansson's Charlotte, though both actors do an
impressive job of showing exactly how their characters are feeling with
hardly a spoken word at all. We never get a good handle on where these
two characters have been, or where they're going (in one of the most
deliciously frustrating -- and utterly ingenious -- goodbyes ever put on
film, Coppola actually makes it a point not to let the audience in on
the specifics of what passes between Bob and Charlotte as they part).
What Lost in Translation offers is romance -- not so much a love
story so much as the dreamy feeling that comes from making a deep
connection to another person. The relationship that develops between Bob
and Charlotte isn't sparks and electricity and passion; it's quiet and
intimate and delicate as gossamer. It's the feeling of finding something
wonderfully familiar in a strange, strange world -- so beautiful and
unexpected and improbable that you can barely believe it's happening,
even while it feels as if it couldn't happen any other way at all. —reviewed
by Yee-Fan Sun
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