A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 587 – Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation – October 8th, 2011

This is one of those movies that I’d been meaning to see but it never seemed like a good time to watch it. There’s a definite atmosphere in it that I think I needed to be in the right mood for. The tone of it is so distinct. You can’t go into this movie if you want something light and funny, but at the same time it’s not entirely serious and somber either. It’s a wistful movie, and I need to be in the right frame of mind for wistful. So while I am glad we watched it tonight, I’m also glad I waited.

It’s kind of amusing to me how much this movie is exactly what the title says. I mean, that’s the whole point right there. You don’t have to do any digging whatsoever to see the connection between the title and the entire movie. Every moment of this movie is informed by the situation of its main characters being pretty much on their own in a country foreign to them in both language and custom. Even their friendship is informed by it. When would they ever have met or connected otherwise? It is a friendship initially formed through the bond of being utterly uncomfortable in unfamiliar surroundings. Because other than that, these two people don’t have a whole lot in common. But what they have in common in terms of interests isn’t really the point. In fact, it’s the opposite of the point. The point is that disparate people in similar circumstances bond together because of those circumstances.

Now, the two main characters, Charlotte and Bob, do share a similar enough sense of humor that they can see the humor in the same things. And that definitely helps. But where Charlotte is an unemployed 20-something tagging along with her new husband while he does photography gigs in Japan, Bob is a 50-something actor, well past his prime and filming whiskey ads for some easy cash while his family is in the US. Their actual interests and hobbies and quirks aren’t explored in any great length. You know that Bob is somewhat cynical and uninterested in home improvements. You know that Charlotte went through a photography stage but doesn’t really know what she wants to do with her life. You know that Bob would probably prefer to do a play somewhere than talk about whiskey on Japanese television. You know Charlotte went to Yale and has little patience for shallow people. That about does it. The movie is more about their experiences in Japan than about them.

And it is incredibly effective at showing the experience of being in a place you don’t know and bonding with a person you’d never have otherwise met. I can’t say I’ve had this experience myself. The closest I’ve come was when I decided I’d rather explore London on my own than see the things I wasn’t interested in just to have the company of my classmates. But there was no language barrier there (or at least not enough of one to make it difficult for me to understand people and be understood) and my isolation was self-imposed, not because I was traveling alone or left on my own by others. And yet watching this movie? I felt like I knew this situation. It was so clearly portrayed and communicated that I felt it. Which, I think, is a major accomplishment for a movie. Especially a movie so very spare as this one.

While we watched this, Andy commented on how amused he was that this movie won an Academy Award for its screenplay when there’s really so little dialogue. I can see the humor there. So much of this movie is in the visuals of Bob in the lounge of the hotel or Charlotte alone in her hotel room or the two of them running down the streets of Tokyo after a night spent club hopping. There are some fantastic lines and exchanges, yes, but the actions are what sell the mood and the plot and the whole situation. The thing is, I get it. I’ve never written a screenplay myself, but there’s a reason it’s an award for a screenplay, not a script. Those unspoken moments and dialogue-less scenes don’t just happen out of luck. They’re written to happen the way they happen. The set and the actions and the expressions? I’m sure those were in the screenplay. And that’s fantastic. That the movie can be so effective without every scene being full of dialogue is a testament to how strong its underpinnings are.

I have to include the two lead actors when talking about this movie’s strengths. Bill Murray has done a very nice job indeed of picking and choosing interesting roles in his later career (Garfield notwithstanding). And he is fantastic in the role of Bob. He’s got a dry sense of humor when it comes to the world around him and when it comes to himself. He’s a little lost, but not completely and he knows that. Scarlett Johansson is equally wonderful as the bored and lonely Charlotte. I love that it’s so clear that she loves her husband and that she’s enjoying Tokyo to a point, but is also a little lost and a little frustrated, not just with her situation in a foreign country but with herself for not knowing what to do. And then they mesh so well. I can easily see how it might feel like much of their interactions are simply natural and unscripted. They feel organic together.

I don’t want to belabor this review by going on and on at length about everything. Mostly because I don’t think the movie needs it. This is a quiet and thoughtful movie about an experience. So really the best way to watch it is to let it simply happen and unfold in front of you. It doesn’t need a whole lot of analysis or nitpicking. It’s not that sort of movie. And I appreciate that. I also appreciate that while the specifics of the movie are set in Japan, the message of the movie isn’t so much about Japan specifically as it is about the unfamiliar. Everything unfamiliar. And how much fun it is to explore it but how confusing it can be at the same time. It’s about embracing that unfamiliarity and how much easier that is with someone else to remind you of what is familiar.

October 8, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , | Leave a comment

Lost in Translation

October 8, 2011

Lost in Translation

I am fascinated by Bill Murray’s later career. Unlike so much of Hollywood he hasn’t really made an effort to appear constantly young. He’s always been self-aware and a little awkward, but he really seems to have embraced an outsider image that allows him to make oddball movies like this. I had this recollection before we started watching this tonight that this movie won an Oscar for Sofia Coppola for best original screenplay. This struck me as odd because my memory of the movie was that it felt largely unscripted, so I had to google it to check my facts. I was right, but it doesn’t make any more sense now than it did then.

The genius of this movie is that it so brilliantly captures a strange disconnected sense of isolation. It’s in the editing, in the camera work, in the soundtrack. It feels as if the whole movie takes place in an insomniac daze.It’s a film that doesn’t really have a plot, per say, having instead a couple of characters tossed into a foreign land to whom a series of inconsequential things happen.

It follows washed up seventies film star Bob Harris, who is in Japan to do ads for whisky, and a young woman named Charlotte at loose ends in the same hotel while her husband travels the country photographing a local rock band. The two of them are both alone in a strange land and end up spending time together mostly to fill the time. Bob is having a kind of midlife crisis (something Charlotte teases him ruthlessly about) and Charlotte is feeling some angst because she can’t figure out what she wants to do with her life. So the two of them bum around Tokyo, observing the unfamiliar strangeness of it. They’re both married, of course, and they know they shouldn’t do anything foolish, but there’s definitely a sexual tension between the two of them as well. If this were a Woody Allen creation (and he does really like to use Scarlett Johansson lately) they would sleep with each other and angst about it for the rest of the movie, but this is a different kind of film. It’s about taking comfort in the company of someone experiencing the same culture shock, and not about giving in to the temptation to do something that would never work out anyhow.

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October 8, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment