Saturday, September 3, 2016

Stubs – Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation (2003) Starring: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris, Fumihiro Hayashi. Directed by Sofia Coppola. Produced by Sofia Coppola, Ross Katz. Screenplay by Sofia Coppola. Run Time: 102 minutes. U.S.,  Color, Comedy, Drama

The Coppola family are no strangers to Hollywood, as three generations of the family have found success in the film industry. Carmine Coppola, a composer of film scores, is the father of Francis Ford Coppola, the director best known for the Godfather films and Talia Shire, the actress best remembered as Adrian in the Rocky series of films. And then there is the third generation, Nicolas Cage, Roman Coppola, Jason Schwartzman and Sofia Coppola. And like her father, Francis Ford, Sophia wanted to direct films.

Sofia may have started out as an actress; starting as an infant, she would appear in her father’s movies, starting with The Godfather (1972), The Godfather, Part II (1974), The Outsiders (1983), Rumble Fish (1983), The Cotton Club (1984), Peggy Sue Got Married (1986), Tucker: The Man and his Dream (1988) and The Godfather, Part III (1990). She would also appear (voice only) in Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie (1984), in person in Jefery Levy’s Inside Monkey Zetterland and George Lucas’ Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999). She also appeared in her brother Roman’s CQ (2001).

Her first opportunity to direct came in 1999 when she adapted Jeffrey Eugenides’ best seller, The Virgin Suicides. Her father was one of the producers and the production company was his American Zoetrope Studios. The film was a modest success critically, but most likely lost money at the box office, making just $10 million on a budget of $6.1 million.

For her second film, Sofia turned to her own experiences. Having visited Tokyo several times, she wrote about her experiences there. She supposedly spent six months on the script and wrote it with Bill Murray in mind and then pursued him for up to a year to play the role, even enlisting Wes Anderson, who had directed Murray in Rushmore (1998) and The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). While Murray agreed to do the film, he didn’t sign a contract, which added to her anxiety until he arrived in Tokyo.

Murray plays Bob Harris, a middle-aged, American actor struggling with a midlife crisis, who arrives in Tokyo to film a television commercial as part of a lucrative contract he’s signed endorsing Suntory, a Japanese whiskey. Upon his arrival in Tokyo, Bob is overwhelmed by culture shock.

Bob Harris (Bill Murray), an American actor in Tokyo on business, is in for some culture shock.

Tokyo is shown as a gleaming city of neon signs, which what Bob views out of his limo on the way to the luxurious Plaza Hotel. When he arrives, he’s met by executives, led by Ms. Kawaski (Akiko Takeshita), who will be shepherding him for the next few days. He is also handed a FAX from his wife reminding him that he forgot his son’s birthday. After he is left alone, Bob tries to sleep, but can’t. He makes his way down to the hotel bar where an American trio, Sausalito, with a red-head lead singer (Catherine Lambert) is performing. While he is trying to find solitude, Bob is confronted by two American businessmen (Gregory Pekar and Richard Allen) who can’t believe the action star is sitting across from them and try to draw him into a conversation.

Tokyo is shown as a city of bright lights.

After a night of tossing and turning, Bob is awakened when the curtains open automatically, filling the room with bright sunlight. After battling a too low showerhead, Bob goes to the television studio to shoot the commercial. Bob is confused by the long and intense conversation between the commercial’s director (Yutaka Todakoro) and the brief instructions he hears from the interpreter.

The time difference makes it hard for Bob to get to sleep at night.

Meanwhile, a young American couple, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and John (Giovanni Ribisi), are also staying at the Plaza. John is a photographer in Japan to photograph a rock and roll band. Charlotte has accompanied him more out of a sense of boredom than of purpose. Her life has no sense of direction and, like Bob, suffers from insomnia. John doesn’t have that problem and when he is at the hotel, he has no problem sleeping. Left alone during the day, Charlotte spends her time roaming the crowded streets.

With her husband on assignment, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is left alone in Tokyo.

When Bob returns from filming the commercial, he is visited by a prostitute sent by the advertising agency. The woman speaks in mangled English and goes into simulated orgasmic convulsions at Bob’s slightest touch. Bob tries to help her and then escape her.

The next morning, the Suntory executives ask Bob to stay through the end of the week to appear on a popular television show. Bob, who wants to go home, is reluctant to agree.

Bob appears on a popular Japanese TV show.

At the photo shoot, the photographer (Tetsuro Naka) of the print ads barely speaks English. He keeps asking Bob, who is wearing an oversized tuxedo shaped with binder clips, to pose like members of the Rat Pack and Roger Moore of James Bond fame.

Bob Harris (Bill Murray), an American actor, shoots a commercial in Tokyo.

Still wearing the tuxedo, complete with the clips, Bob heads for the hotel bar, where Charlotte smiles at him.

But she is not so amused the next morning when her husband is confronted by Kelly (Anna Faris), an American actress, in Japan on a promotional tour, who gushes over John’s photography. Charlotte is amused by the pseudonym Kelly has chosen, Evelyn Waugh, which is actually a man’s name. John defends Kelly to Charlotte, telling her not to be so condescending.

Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and her husband, John (Giovanni Ribisi), are confronted by Kelly
 (Anna Faris), an American actress on a promotional tour. Kelly is enamored by John's photography.

That night, the two insomniacs again meet in the lounge and Charlotte strikes up a conversation. As they talk, Bob admits to Charlotte that he’s going through a mid-life crisis and is taking a break from his own life by being in Japan. His marriage of 25 years is in trouble, and he expressed the feeling he should be doing a play somewhere rather than taking the $2 million for the endorsement. Charlotte has recently graduated from Yale with a philosophy degree and reveals that she has been married for only two years but also feels lost in the world.

Charlotte and Bob strike up a conversation in the lounge at the hotel.

The next evening, Charlotte and John are in the lounge with Kelly, who starts talking about her recent cleanse. Charlotte abandons their pointless conversation to join Bob, who teasingly offers to make Charlotte his accomplice in a “prison break”. She agrees to go with him.

The next day, John leaves for another city while Charlotte remains behind. She runs into Bob at the hotel pool and invites him to accompany her and some friends on a night out on the town. Bob and Charlotte become fast friends during the night, which includes visiting nightclubs, a lot of drinking, attempting to converse in a mix of Japanese, English and sign language and singing karaoke.

On their "prison break," John and Charlotte explore Tokyo at night.

After carrying the sleepy Charlotte from the taxi to her hotel room, Bob tucks her in and resignedly goes to his own room, from which he calls his wife Lydia (Nancy Steiner). As usual, Bob and Lydia’s conversation is strained on both ends of the call.

The next day over sushi, Charlotte shows Bob her recently injured toe, and he insists on taking her to a hospital. Their adventure at the hospital, where no one seems to understand them, draws them closer together.

At lunch, Bob finds out about Charlotte's injured toe and takes her to the hospital.

That night, Bob accepts Charlotte’s invitation to meet up with her and her friends at what turns out to be a strip club. But Bob and Charlotte are both uncomfortable with the atmosphere and quickly leave together. After a walk through the city, they return to the hotel and, upon discovering that neither of them can sleep, watch television in Bob’s room.

Lying together on his bed, they share their frustrations about their lives. Charlotte asks Bob if marriage gets easier as time passes and he answers honestly that sometimes it does not. Charlotte confesses that she feels that she is aimless, but Bob has faith in her. Content, the pair falls asleep with Charlotte curled up next to Bob.

Charlotte and Bob end up in bed together but only talk.

The next day, Charlotte goes alone to Kyoto, where she admires a more traditional Japan. Bob, who has agreed to stay in Tokyo in order to be near Charlotte for a few more days, is deeply depressed after appearing on the talk show. When Bob receives a call from Lydia, he sadly tells her that he feels lost, but she does not know how to respond. After watching himself on the show that evening, Bob goes to the lounge. There, the singer from the band approaches him.

The next morning, Bob wakes up with her, realizing they’ve spent the night together. While the woman is still there, Charlotte comes to his room to invite him to lunch. When she hears the singer singing, she becomes upset and leaves. Despite the awkwardness, Bob meets Charlotte for lunch anyway, but the tension prevents them from enjoying the meal.

Charlotte and John have an uneasy lunch after he sleeps with another woman.

Later that night, a fire alarm draws all the hotel guests outside and the two reconcile. They make one last visit to the hotel lounge. He admits to her that he wishes he could stay in Tokyo with her, but they both know it’s just a romantic fantasy. They end up in the elevator gently and tentatively they give each other a kiss on the cheek goodbye.

The next morning, Bob is scheduled to leave. He tries to call Charlotte under the pretense that she’s stolen one of his coats. While he’s surrounded by fawning Suntory executives, who want to pose with him in photos, Charlotte shows up, with the coat, in the lobby. Under the watchful eyes of the executives and guests, Bob says an awkward goodbye to Charlotte before he leaves for the airport.

But on the way, he spots Charlotte walking through a crowd and asks the driver to stop. He gets out of the car and chases after her. Alone in a crowd of strangers, he finally embraces her. Bob embraces Charlotte and whispers something (substantially inaudible to the audience) in the tearful Charlotte's ear. After sharing a brief but tender kiss, the couple then says goodbye and smiles fondly at each other before parting. Bob gets back to the limo and it departs.

Bob and Charlotte share one last loving embrace on the crowded streets of Tokyo.

Lost in Translation is a sort of Rom-Com, but at the same time, it’s not. Bob and Charlotte don’t really get past their mild flirtation stage. They are both fish out of water, with more time than purpose on their hands, brought together through ennui. Both start out the movie yearning to go home but end up wanting to stay to be with the other.

Chances are if they were to get back together in Los Angeles, things would not work out. It is their circumstance that brings them together. Once back home, their age difference and different goals would no doubt doom their relationship. But while they are in Tokyo they fill the void in the other.

Murray is restrained as Bob. Funny no doubt it is his reaction to the craziness around him, rather than him doing something zany that is the source of the humor. Not quite believable as a romantic lead, it works here as he makes fun of so many Hollywood actors who go to Japan and sell their souls for commercials shot there they hope no one back home will see.

A veteran of Saturday Night Live, Murray has had some very big successes as an actor, including Caddyshack (1980), Stripes (1981), Ghostbusters (1984), Ghostbusters II (1989) and Groundhog Day (1993). He has also had his share of flops, including The Razor’s Edge (1984), Kingpin (1996) and Larger Than Life (1996).

Somewhere in the early 2000’s, Murray began to be recognized for his acting. He appeared in two Wes Anderson films before appearing in Lost in Translation. With his role as Bob Harris, Murray hit critical pay dirt, receiving nominations from every major and minor award body. He would win the Golden Globe for Best Actor in Motion Picture Musical or Comedy and receive an Academy nomination for Best Actor. He has since gone on to be a reliable character actor, appearing in independent and low-budget films, such as The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), The Darjeeling Limited (2007), Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009), Get Low (2010), Moonrise Kingdom (2012), Hyde Park On Hudson (2012) and The Grand Budapest Hotel (2014). He’s recently appeared in The Monument Men (2014), which made over $150 million worldwide, and St. Vincent (2014).

Sometimes, it’s hard to remember that Scarlett Johansson was only 19 when she played Charlotte. She made her first film appearance at the age of 9 in North (1994). By the time she appeared in Lost in Translation, she had already made a dozen films, including If Lucy Fell (1996), The Horse Whisperer (1998) and Ghost World (2001). As an actress she has played in dramas: Girl With a Pearl Earring (2003), The Black Dahlia (2006), The Other Boleyn Girl (2008), Hitchcock (2012); comedies: Match Point (2005), Scoop (2006), Vicky Cristina Barcelona (2008), He’s Just Not That Into You (2009) and Don Jon (2013); and super hero films: Iron Man 2 (2010), The Avengers (2012) and Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014). She has even become an action hero of sorts, carrying Lucy (2014) to over $412 million in box-office. She also appeared in Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) and The Jungle Book (2015), which reunited her with Bill Murray.

For Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation has been her high water mark as a writer and director. Since, she’s made Maria Antoinette (2006), Somewhere (2010) and The Bling Ring (2013), none of which have approached this film’s box-office and/or critical response. This film shows what’s she’s capable of doing with the right story and cast. I hope she’s got more like this in store for us.

And that’s what makes Lost in Translation such a good film. The story is both original and offbeat. It dances with the Romantic Comedy genre, but eventually pulls away from being a typical movie. The film is also blessed to have two very strong leads, who on the surface seem like an unlikely match, but who, when placed in the right situation and circumstances, become a believable, if temporary, couple.

The film is both a love letter to Japan and Tokyo specifically, as well as a gentle spoof of Japanese stereotypes. The city is shown in bright neon lights, very modern and clean, if not a little sterile. Out in the countryside, we see traditions still going strong as when Charlotte visits a temple in Kyoto.

At the same time, a lot of comedy mileage is made at the expense of the inability of American’s Bob and Charlotte to clearly understand the people they come in contact with and the Japanese penchant to replace the “l” sound, which is not in their language, with “r’s”. It is funny without being disrespectful, which can be a very thin tight rope to walk.

I really liked Lost in Translation in the same way I liked (500) Days of Summer (2009), another film that isn’t afraid to be different, to flaunt genre conventions and has the courage to tell a unique story. It is the strength of the screenplay and the actors who bring it to life that makes this film like (500) Days and Waitress (2007) such pleasing films to watch. If you have the chance but haven’t yet seen Lost in Translation you should definitely watch it.

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