Universal // 2003 // 102 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Ryan Keefer (Retired) // June 20th, 2007
Everyone wants to be found.
For as complicated as we humans claim ourselves to be, we really just want to loved and supported. That's what I think the message ofLost in Translation actually is. After receiving a drubbing for the performance she gave in the final Godfather film, Sofia Coppola (yes, from that family) has written and directed a sweet film that features memorable performances. How's it look in high definition?
Bob Harris (Bill Murray, Rushmore) is a movie star who has flown to Japan to shoot a television ad for whiskey, and is getting paid big dollars to do it. His marriage is cold and distant, he receives notes and faxes from his wife, several thousand miles away, even FedEx'ing him some carpet samples. The words "I love you" seemed to have disappeared from their vocabulary a while ago. He meets Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson, The Horse Whisperer), a wife and recent Harvard graduate. She married John (Giovanni Ribisi, Saving Private Ryan), a photographer, and has come with him to Japan on John's assignment to shoot some rock stars. She spends most of her day staring out her window, trying her figure out her place in the world, and what she wants to do, and thanks to jetlag, that time is abundant. The two eventually meet in the hotel bar and become friends.
A lot of people were pulling for Murray to win a Best Actor Oscar for this film, and rightfully so. The familiarities between this and his ignored performance in Rushmore are justified. But Murray plays the role with so much more depth and emotion, that it reminds me a bit of his role in Groundhog Day. It's a funny movie, but I think that's where Murray started showing some emotional range in his characters. And Lost in Translation is not without its own laughs either. Murray is doing the advertising for the whiskey, and his appearance on a show featuring the "Japanese Johnny Carson" is quite funny in an understated manner. The thing that's disappointed me about the film is that what Murray has done since then. He put in a great performance in Rushmore, polished it off in Lost in Translation and has since recycled it in The Life Aquatic and more notably, Broken Flowers. I would hope that he could shake this stigma and hopefully Murray will see some deserved Academy Award love in the future.
Many people have castigated Lost in Translation for being "boring," but in looking at the basic foundation of the story, which is the friendship that Bob and Charlotte strike up, it really makes for great viewing. Anybody who travels can tell you that finding someone you can share a kinship with while you're all alone on an extended trip can be fascinating, perhaps even aphrodisiacal. To find someone who can share the discomforts and insecurities with and feel comfortable being around in a platonic way is an intensely cute thing. Bob and Charlotte are stuck on a small island of familiarity, and their friendship blossoms from the loneliness they feel in this setting. Would they have met and gotten to know each other in a different, American setting? Who knows? Maybe not, through the experiences they share say otherwise. For instance, Bob and Charlotte go to a karaoke bar, and as funny as it would be to see Bill Murray break out his lounge singer character from Saturday Night Live (and I was almost expecting him to), it's something that Bob Harris probably wouldn't do, though singing Elvis Costello does make for its own nice moment.
For better or worse, Universal always puts out a very good looking disc regardless of the film, and Lost in Translation's 1.85:1 VC-1 anamorphic widescreen is another one of those. It looks beautiful, and I just couldn't find any issues with the transfer. The entire lighting cornucopia that Tokyo comes through with such vivid reproduction, and yet the blacks and other drab colors still manage to look great. In high definition, Toyko looks great and things pop out at you. However, on the flipside, the film had a DTS soundtrack on the SD version for no reason in particular, and the Dolby Digital-Plus soundtrack is another baffler. Considering the nature of the film, it's not like giving it a prime sonic treatment would enhance things that much, as it's a film full of impressive dialogue, devoid of any car chases.
The extras on this disc start with "Lost on Location," a 30-minute video production diary, filmed by various members of the crew, and even some small time with Coppola's then-husband, Spike Jonze. I'm not the first to say it, but I'll repeat it: considering what the end result was for a film with a $4 million budget, they did some amazing work. And Murray's clowning around and pitching in with some of the crew labor is impressive to hear about as well. The phrases he decides to learn in Japanese are hilarious, especially when used in certain situations. All in all, it's a pretty nice look at the making of the film. "A Conversation with Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray" covers the thoughts of the involved parties for 10 minutes, with Murray sporting a beard for his role in The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. The two also share their thoughts on the production and crewmembers, but overall, this piece can be skipped. Next are over 10 minutes of deleted scenes that give you more Bill for your buck, as he interacts with a water aerobics group at the hotel, plus there's some good footage of Anna Faris' press conference as Kelly, where she does a dead-on interpretation of Cameron Diaz. I'd say most of this stuff could have been included in the final cut, but then again, I'm not up for two Oscars either. Murray's in-character appearance as Bob on Matthew's Best Hit TV is here too, some of it you've already seen, the rest gets strange, culminating with Bob in the midst of a Fear Factor trick.
When I first saw the film early on, the scenes where Murray is communicating with the Japanese did make me squirm a little bit. Not being immersed in the Japanese culture or Japan that much, some of what was going on seemed to scream racial stereotype to me. However in repeated viewings, Murray manages to negotiate that line quite well to avoid the perception. For instance, one scene where a Japanese escort encourages him to "lip" her stocking can bring a cringe or two, but there's this look on Murray's face that is the look of a lot of people who try to interact with someone from another country, and that look is frustration bordering on panic. It helps make the laughing easier for the viewer.
Despite a disc that is rather devoid of extras, the sparkling transfer and outstanding film provide for some quality highlights, and it's definitely a side of Bill Murray that few have seen before, but will enjoy. Highly recommended for rental, but sooner or later, you may find yourself picking this up to own, and you won't regret it for one minute.
Not guilty, and the court hopes that Bob and Charlotte can find each other again in similar circumstances.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2003
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* A Conversation with Bill Murray and Sofia Coppola
* Behind-the-Scenes Documentary
* Deleted Scenes
* Official Site