Sofia Coppola’s second outing, Lost in Translation, is either a great film or rubbish, and I’m not sure which way I’m leaning at the moment. Considering the lavish critical acclaim the film received I’m surprised at how odd it is. It’s not commercial or mainstream in any sense, but then again it doesn’t shape up like a quirky independent either.
On the plus side, it’s very atmospheric and moody as Bob Harris (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) explore Tokyo together, along with their shared unhappiness in their respective relationships. The acting in natural from both leads and the action is always engaging and possesses an almost hypnotic quality. And essentially that’s it; Murray and Johansson just knock about in Japan in a similar way that the couple in Monsters interact with South America, but with much, much less direction and focus. And no homemade CGI aliens either, unfortunately.
The main criticism is that nothing really happens in the film. The plot is wafer thin and the actors are so natural, it’s as if they’re not acting at all. More worrying is the argument that the whole of modern Japanese culture is depicted as something to sneer and laugh at. This is a tad unfair on Coppola as I’m sure she would argue that it is more the viewpoint of the characters that see Japan as a strange, unfathomable and humorous place, rather than a statement by the director. And essentially that’s it; Murray and Johansson knock about in Tokyo laughing and sneering at the Japanese.
Usually the truth lies somewhere between the two extremes, but in this case it’s impossible to sit on the fence. It’s either good or rubbish. I’m inclined to go for the positive as I’d happily watch the film again. It’s gentle, moody and a little shallow, but for some intangible reason I really liked it. Definitely worth a watch, and then you can decide for yourself.
If you like this you could also try:
Monsters, The Virgin Suicides, Vicky Cristina Barcelona.