Lost in Translation (R)
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Caution: potential spoilers.
This is one of those movies that I want to like more than I actually do, and am upset with myself about that. You know, the kind of thing where the quality is better than the entertainment value. Which is not to say I didn't find it entertaining. It's definitely funny, but the humor is very dry, for the most part. It's also a very sort of melancholy movie. Anyway... I definitely liked the movie, and I would imagine I liked it more than most people would (even if I liked it considerably less than most film critics did). There is a common complaint that nothing happens, and I rather share that complaint, on a certain level... but on another level, I appreciate that about the film. It's actually kind of refreshing to see the occasional story told with subtlety and minimalism, as this one was, with more focus on how characters appear to feel, than on anything they say or do. Although there's another complaint about the way the Japanese are shown in the movie, and I can understand that. The culture does seem rather ridiculous, here... but that impression is far from unique to this film. Honestly, there's a great deal about any society on Earth that I could find ridiculous, and in fact I'd put American society pretty near the top of such a list. But while I may not be qualified to judge, never having been to Japan (as much as I'd like to go someday, if I ever learn the language), I doubt there's anything in the film that was an unrealistic portrayal. And yeah, I'm pretty sure that as much as I tend to love Japanese culture, I'd put it higher on the list of oddness than America or almost any other country. But the real problem is that the movie doesn't show much more of Japan than its strangeness, when of course there's plenty about it that's not strange. But I don't see that as necessarily insulting. The thing is, the movie is not meant to be a travelogue or an in-depth depiction of the country. There isn't time to show every aspect of Japan; and more to the point, what the movie is about, to some extent, is the two main characters feeling lost there. So the film concentrates on some of the country's stranger aspects, in order to serve the story, so that viewers may vicariously feel the whole "stranger in a strange land" motif.
Anyway, as to the plot... Bill Murray plays a middle-aged American (former) movie star named Bob Harris, who's in Tokyo for a week or so, to appear in commercials for Suntory whiskey. Also, his agent wants him to stay a bit longer to appear on a talk show. Meanwhile, there's a young woman named Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), who's been married for about a year to a photographer named John. She came to Japan with him, where he's working for awhile, but because of his work, she doesn't see much of him. Bob and Charlotte soon meet, and enjoy each other's company. Part of it is probably the comfort of speaking the same language and having a similar sense of disconnect from the culture in which they currently find themselves. But mostly it's that they both feel disconnected from their spouses (Bob's is still back in America, with their kids, and we only ever hear her on the phone; she never sounds very interested in talking to him); and that they they both feel lost in their own lives. (The fact that they're in an unfamiliar country is a sort of metaphor, but Japan isn't where they're really lost. In fact, they seem to get around Tokyo with no difficulty at all.) Charlotte is angsting over the fact that she doesn't know what she's supposed to do with her life, what she wants to be. Bob just seems sort of world-weary. So, you know... misery loves company, right? And when they're hanging out together, they're not so miserable.
Well, in the few days they know each other, they quickly form a strong friendship. One can't help but expect it to become more than that, but it sort of doesn't. That's one thing I like about the movie (as do the critics). It'd be real easy for a situation like this to turn into an affair, so it's refreshing that it doesn't. But also kind of sad, because Bob and Charlotte really seem better suited to each other than they do to their respective spouses. But the ending is more happy, and sweet, and hopeful... I guess. It really isn't clear exactly how things are left between the two of them, just before Bob heads home. There's a tender moment which is awesome, that involves Bob whispering something to her, which the audience can't hear. I actually googled "what did bill murray say at the end of lost in translation," and there are sites that will tell you... but it's enough for me to know that I could find out if I wanted to. I'm definitely curious, but I decided I'd rather not learn the answer. Anyway, that's pretty much all I can think to say. A well-acted, sad, sweet, dryly humorous movie that was really good, but I don't know if I'll ever feel the need to see it again.