Lost in Translation

Director: Sofia Coppola
Year Released: 2003
Rating: 3.5

Cheeky rendering of Sartre's No Exit in which two Americans (Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray - 'like souls') are trapped in Tokyo - and in particular, a Japanese hotel - for an extended visit (she's with her photographer husband, he's doing a commercial) and kill time together (time spent outside the hotel is very brief). It's an odd movie in that in some ways it's absolutely terrible - trying to get into cultural theory but reducing it to a almost trifling level, letting scenes run on past the point someone else would have cut, snipped and discarded - and yet the sense of isolation created is mighty effective: it's one of the saddest pictures I've seen in a long time. Communication itself is really the problem: Bill Murray and his wife have two awkward phone conversations in which you sense something is flawed in their relationship but neither can resolve it (Murray says he regrets making the phone call after he hangs up), Johansson tries to call home but only starts crying, Johansson can't get it through to her husband that she wants to go home, Johansson and Murray have a hard time explaining to each other why they're so downhearted, Murray and a lounge singer have a midnight tryst but never speak to each other, Giovanni Ribisi stammers when confronted with a flighty American actress he may have had a fling with, and countless more incidents, not to mention the most obvious problem of English-speaking people trying to function in Japan. Accusations of racism aren't completely off but also fail to consider the Murray character's angst and frustration ... or maybe America's not-so-latent xenophobia. But the interaction between the two leads is priceless, and there is a quiet understanding between them: it's no fun being elitists.