Lost in Translation

7 Jul, 2004 | EntertainmentTdp

I finally managed to get round to watching Lost in Translation yesterday. I bought the DVD without having seen it and have been waiting for a clear evening in which to watch it. I don't normally buy films that I haven't seen, but I'd heard so much good stuff about LiT from friends, in addition to the media, that I decided to gamble. I've only seen it the once (I like to see films a number times before making decisions about it) and I'm trying to refrain from writing film reviews, mainly because my initial impressions can be way off, I miss stuff and they're uninteresting, but having said that, I like to promote stuff that most people either miss or overlook, so I thought I'd say a few words about it.

For those who don't know, it stars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. It's set in Japan where two American tourists -- one an ageing film star in town to do a commercial for a Japanese whiskey, the other the young wife of a workaholic photographer in Japan on business -- meet each other in their hotel bar. Their shared insomnia and sense of isolation draw them together and they become friends. Both of them are having a sort of life crisis. Bob because he seems to have developed apathy for everything, because he's no longer wanted or needed and has lost his place; Charlotte because she's just graduated and doesn't know what to do with her life, nothing she tries seems to fit. Over the course of the film they touch each other's lives and help one another see that there are reasons for hope.

It's a slow paced film, which won't appeal to some people, in fact it's positively pedestrian in pace, with plenty of long shots of the cast staring off over the high-rise landscape of Tokyo or at blank walls. The colours and soundtrack are cold and autumnal, increasing the isolation of the characters, distancing them from the loud, brash, neon glory of high-tech Japan. It's made in a completely different way to modern Hollywood movies. The general Hollywood thinking seems to be that no film can survive without big action sequences, a thumping soundtrack and cuts every other second. If you want to make a movie better, just add more, or better still, bigger explosions.

LiT, however, has a scene with Bob on a mobile phone in a hot tub. Most directors would change shots, usually between two completely different angles (always abiding by the 180° rule), every 3 seconds of so (that sounds fast, but watch how long most shots are), and they might even have a shot of the person on the other end. (Of course, most screenwriters would only have a scene like this if it drove the plot forward and even then only if they had no other way -- show, don't tell -- and I'm not sure this qualifies as plot driving.) Sofia Coppola, on the other hand, changes shots four times in a two-minute sequence and holds one shot, with next to no movement in it, for 47 seconds. At another point in the film she holds a shot for two full minutes, that's an ice age in screen time. Most people will tell you you can't do this, that the audience won't stand for it, they'll get bored, they'll walk out, you'll never make any money. I got news for you guys, I love these sort of films, and so do many others.

LiT is different, it's not likely to get you on the edge of your seat or make you want to be an action hero but it delivers wonderfully funny, warm, realisitc characters, a charming story that everyone (with a degree of patience) should enjoy.