TBT: Lost in Translation (2003)


There are some titles out there you know you have no good excuse for avoiding for so long. It’s not even like you were accidentally putting them after others in a queue because you wanted to see those others first. You just, forgot about them. I’m not just referring to small, independent movies that have a tendency of slipping between the cracks. Those movies almost go out of their way to be avoided, either because they’re trendy arthouse pictures with highly niched audiences, or are movies whose presences just weren’t advertised well. No, I’m talking about a major motion picture event that you’re pretty certain everyone has seen but you. You pretty much believe that’s the case because when you’re done watching the movie that was gathering dust (thanks, Netflix!), the first thing out of your mouth is ‘Wow, how have I not seen this before?’ It’s a reaction you just can’t help having, a guiltiness that makes you feel as though you are re-joining society. Such an experience happened to me this week when I finally got to this entry.

Today’s food for thought: Lost in Translation


Release: September 26, 2003


Sofia Coppola and my relationship is apparently a bipolar one. I’ve loathed her and now I love her! And I have no idea what to expect next. The first, and only other film of hers that I’ve seen — The Bling Ring — I regarded as one of the most tedious film experiences I had had throughout all of 2013. It failed on all levels to connect, and I walked out not feeling like a baller at all.

Interestingly enough, ten years ago almost to the day of that release she had created something stylistically similar that would hit virtually all of the right notes with me, to the point of it looking for a place to stay on my list of all-time favorites.

If The Bling Ring could be described as a story progressed by action rather than explication and a whole lot of dialogue, the same could be said of her early 2000s romantic comedy Lost in Translation, with the most notable difference being a cast of characters that are actually likable, even if they are still imperfect. With a camera following characters that seem to be wandering, both films share a relative lack of dialogue and explanation so as to put emphasis on visual clues and context in order for the story to have weight. Whereas her 2013 effort focused on rather dislikable, superficial fame-obsessed youths (I’m sure this is somebody’s crowd — not mine, though) her prior work found two lost souls traveling abroad in the rather hectic tech hub that is Tokyo.

Not much else is shared in common between the two films, but the directorial style is identifiable already. In Tokyo an aging actor, Bob Harris (Bill Murray) whose career had experienced a big slide recently, came across a recent college graduate named Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) who’s traveling with her husband John (Giovanni Ribisi), an apparently busy and successful photographer. Bob was finding it difficult adapting to the new culture, even if it was only to be for a brief period of time while he shot a commercial for a Japanese whiskey; and his marriage back home was going through a difficult spell. On the other side of the room, Charlotte was constantly being left alone to fend for herself in the big city because John was always working. She was growing more and more distant and depressed at the same time Bob was becoming more tired of his life.

And cue the eventual first meeting in their hotel’s bar and dining area.

Lost in Translation was a thoroughly enjoyable and breezy film that sailed on its charming central characters. Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray proved to be an excellent pairing, with a young Johansson giving wonderful life to a character that perpetually suffered. It was the kind of performance that would indicate a promising talent, as she was wise beyond her years as a philosophical young woman trying to understand her position in life. As a jaded older man who was trying to understand the very same thing, Murray’s reserved poise never felt better suited. He didn’t come up with any goofy, memorable one-liners but his simple presence was strong enough to affect a constant smirk. Even though both characters hurt, they were never unlikable and allowed the film to pass by with the quickness.

Though this was truly Murray and Johansson’s show, the side characters had a moderate impact in that they were so peripheral they bothered us. They were those loose eyelashes poking us in the eye and irritating it for days. Ribisi with very limited screen time convinced us he doesn’t really want much to do with his wife and would prefer to be snapping photos all the time. . . especially some requested by an old college friend (Anna Faris). Faris’ Kelly was a silly and self-serving diversion and not much more, but she was memorable for that reason.

There is a sense of exoticism because of where the film’s set, there is no doubt about that. The experience often seemed more surreal than it actually was. When it comes to analyzing the characters’ morality and their motivations, the film truly opens up. In terms of justifying this clandestine relationship in Tokyo, how does one do that, exactly? Though the people involved were truly likable, both were in committed relationships. But did anything ever reach a point where their faithfulness might be questioned? The moral lines blur with the physical ones in this emotionally resonant and surprisingly enlightening romantic comedy.


4-5Recommendation: Lost in Translation is a quality picture both in terms of its lead performances and in its design. It impresses like a delicate piece of art yet it maintains the feel of a mainstream production. Often lighthearted and quickly paced, it also bears heavy emotion and speaks to heavy hearts, and is one that likely won’t leave either the heart or memory very quickly. For the small percentage of you who has not seen this yet, let me be another person to tell you it is highly recommended viewing.

Rated: R

Running Time: 101 mins.

Quoted: “The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.”

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Photo credits: http://www.youtube.com; http://www.imdb.com

28 thoughts on “TBT: Lost in Translation (2003)

  1. Pingback: Jojo Rabbit | Thomas J

  2. Another great review, Tom. : ) Lost in Translation is SUCH a great film. I’ve not watched The Bling Ring yet as it got such bad reviews. What a shame!


  3. I probably should give this another shot as it left me cold first time round. I just didn’t like that the movie seemed to be about how Japanese people are weird and the only real friendship you could have was with someone from your own country. Maybe I read it wrong.


  4. I thought this movie was good, but I’m glad that you pointed out that this movie is mostly just breezy and charming for I think others have stated that it was a deep drama when it clearly isn’t. Even though I didn’t believe that the two characters would actually have this type of romance or attraction, despite being two lonely people, I still thought it was good with some funny scenes. But I wasn’t impressed by the ambiguous end.


  5. Excellent review. Sheesh I haven’t seen this since just after it released… maybe I should look into it again at some stage?


    • Wow yeah its been awhile for ya, but if you remember liking it it’s certainly worth the re-watch. Having only just seen it I already can’t wait to rewatch it myself. haha.

      Actually, I have a better test. Do you remember the Bill Murray on a treadmill scene? If you don’t, then yes you definitely need to rewatch. That’s how you know.


      • Hmmmm, you have me almost convinced… my biggest thing is I am not a fan of Scarlett Johansson (yes, I said it).

        I do not, so I will have to rewatch this, you are right!


  6. Nice review, Tom! Have this film in my Netflix List and I hope to re-visit it very soon. I feel that Coppola knocked it out of the park here and she set the bar pretty high for herself. Nothing since has been as good but she remains a force to be reckoned with if she handles the right material. Nice job!


    • Very well said, she set the bar definitely high with this, a standard she has not and may not reach again. To be fair, a lot of her success stems from Scarlett Johansson being so young and so full of talent and having perfect chemistry with the older Bill Murray. . .it was just great. Love this one. I really do


    • No, thank you very much man. You are too kind. Given that this was my very first experience with the film perhaps my passion for it is fresher than most people’s who have already seen it before. Either case, I’m very happy to be brought up to speed. Thought this was a charming little number and it ranks highly up there with my all-time faves


  7. The Bling Ring sucked. I remember watching it at my girlfriends and we complained throughout. It is was so bad that we both needed to watch another movie to get the bad taste out of our mouths. Luckily, it was Don Jon and I quite enjoyed that one.

    Dude, I’m so off topic. My memory fails me on this one and I cannot exactly remember whether I ever watched it or not. Great leads and it sounds like something special, so I am quite disappointed in myself if I have not. Fantastic review as always!


    • Then now cannot be a better time to rekindle your familiarity with this gem! I absolutely adore Lost in Translation, after only my first watch. I suppose that leaves something to be said for its rewatchability but given how lightweight it first seemed and how much I was laughing at Bill Murray just for being his amazing self, I think it is going to score very well in that department too.

      Don Jon is always a good follow-up to anything, and decidedly much better work from a first-time director than Coppola’s latest bullshit. lol


  8. Great review! Haven’t seen this in a bit but I was really amazed at how young Scarlett looked in your photos. I think a rewatch is in order.


    • It’s a great one man, esp from a then-18 or 19-year old Johansson who is breathtakingly awesome in this role. Her and Bill Murray do a lot for the film, I must admit. The story isn’t incredibly overwhelming or revolutionary, but man is the cast good and the characters likable!


  9. Great review, Tom. And totally agreed. Here Coppola crushes it, producing something both memorable and high quality. And in The Bling Ring, she basically failed . . . totally and completely.

    Oddly, I think the Bling Ring would have been terrific if it had been a short. It reminds me a lot of her second directorial efforts, a short called Lick the Star. If you can get you hands on Lick the Star, I’d be interested to see if you agree with me. Would making The Bling Ring 30 minutes, instead of 2 hours, have made it quality?


    • Hmm….that’s a very interesting concept. I’ll look that short film up in a bit and see if I can check it out. For me the issue was just the characters in general not being likable one iota. I really wrestled with staying in the theater or not because Emma Watson so intensely irritated me. Others have claimed these to be good performances from all involved, but I just don’t see it that way. Before going in, I took a moment to think about the fact that I was probably not the ideal audience for the movie, but I went anyway. I really must blame my displeasure on my self actually hahah


      • No, I don’t think you do. The Bling Ring is bad (I gave it F-something.) I do think the actors are good, especially Watson, but Coppola’s failure to develop any of the character makes them equally loathable and uninteresting. That’s a bad combination. (Fiction can survive unlikable main characters (see Breaking Bad or The Godfather or whatever else), but unlikable individuals who are also dull … Nope. No fiction can recover from that.)


  10. So glad you liked this mate, it’s one of my favourite films. I just love the setting, the characters and the whole atmosphere. The ending has been lauded time and time again but I think it’s the perfect ambiguous ending.


    • The more I reflect on it the better and better it becomes. Johansson and Murray are wonderful in this, and the film has just given me one more reason as to why I think Johansson’s not just another lovely Hollywood face to look at. She’s got real talent. Amazing amounts, too.


  11. Love this movie so much. Especially that ambiguous ending that only goes on to show just how awesome Bill Murray is. Maybe that wasn’t the point of the movie itself, but that’s at least what I garnered. Good review Tom.


    • I’m a huge fan of the way this goes out. Wasn’t at first, I was left a little frustrated by the lack of closure. It’s a wonderful movie, though man. And yeah Bill Murray just made an even bigger fan out of me. He’s great in this, esp in the last moments. Can’t believe I hadn’t seen it til now!


    • teeeheee!! typo’s are funny. Thanks for the comment, yeah the way this one wraps up is very bittersweet. It really tied the bow on the gift for me. I really quite enjoyed myself in this. It was such an easy film to watch, yet at the same time becomes rewarding. It is a patient film though, and it’s not filled with a lot of action. But I loved the two characters too much to let that affect me, but I see where it is a problem for others. 🙂


  12. That’s a really good review. I have mixed feelings about this film.
    The leads were excellent in their roles and the characters themselves were intriguing. I actually did laugh out loud, at the scene of the making of the whiskey ad, something that doesn’t happen that often. Bill Murray and Billy Connolly can quite often do that to me, but not always. And I thought the ending was wonderfully bittersweet.
    Other wise, I thoughtless it lacking in momentum. That’s my nice way of saying that I got a bit bored.


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