Sofia Coppola's 'Lost in Translation,' her second feature after the sublime 'The Virgin Suicides,' is a marvelous love story that shows the wonder and delight of two people making an emotional connection, realized by two outstanding acting performances.
Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a movie star who has come to Japan for two million dollars to promote Suntory whiskey. The jetlag, and his minimal knowledge of Japanese language and culture, make him appear withdrawn and dejected, but his moods are actually due to his relationship with his wife back home. Her main interest is remodeling their home, but his focus is remodeling their marriage. She always seems annoyed and distant when he calls, and when she initiates contact, it’s only to get his opinion on carpet samples for the den.
Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is married to a star fashion photographer (Giovani Ribasi) who pays her little attention. They're staying in Tokyo due to his assignments. He's gone for days at a time, leaving her to do nothing but wander aimlessly. She's an Ivy League grad who majored in philosophy and is unsure what to do with her life. She listens to motivational tapes, hoping they'll help her find direction.
Bob and Charlotte cross paths on occasion, exchanging a smile or some small talk. They finally meet in the hotel bar where they've been enlisting alcohol to battle the boredom of the moment and of their lives. After making each other's acquaintance, they begin to go with her friends to clubs, to house parties, to sing karaoke, even to a strip club. Each instance finds them eventually grow wearisome of their surroundings and run off to spend time alone. After saying their good nights and going to bed, they still talk on the phone or reconvene to watch the late show.
They grow close, but it’s not creepy like other films in which the couple has a generation gap between them. However, even they don’t appear sure what is happening. Are they friends? Surrogate father/daughter? Are they falling in love? At karaoke, Bob sings Roxy Music’s "More Than This," the lyrics of which capture the uncertain state of their relationship and where it's going. When all of Bob's promotional events come to an end, choices have to be about what to do next, and the film concludes in an extremely satisfying way.
Bill Murray's performance is reminiscent of Charlie Chaplin, ranging from funny to melancholy, yet never going over the top; his emotions are all believably within his character. Scarlett Johansson is captivating on screen, and not just because of her good looks. Her strongest moments are when she has no dialogue, yet still clearly conveys what is going on with her character. It's too bad they aren't closer in age because they would make a great screen couple. They have chemistry.
Coppola's screenplay, which won numerous awards and accolades, reveals her to be a gifted storyteller. The plot makes all the right choices, even while it's making you nervous that it’s going to make a wrong one. As the relationship grows between Bob and Charlotte, they come to a crossroads. Most writers would have them make the easy, familiar choices we've seen before, with potentially disastrous results, if not for the characters than for the film, but Sofia chooses the more difficult path and makes it work.
She also captures the boredom and ennui of the characters while still making it interesting to watch. Her directing style doesn't draw attention to itself; her choices seem to derive from what would best serve the story. Its small scale heightens the story's intimacy, and cinematographer Lance Acord always has the camera in the right place even when running through the streets of Tokyo.
'Lost in Translation' is one of the great screen romances because of its realistic portrayal of love, and it's easy to see why Murray is on record saying this is his favorite performance.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Universal brings 'Lost in Translation' to high-definition on a BD-50 Blu-ray disc housed inside a standard blue keepcase. Its release has been timed with Coppola's latest film 'Somewhere,' so the only new extras relate to that. The disc boots up directly to the menu screen without any promotional advertisements. The Blu-ray is region free.
The 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 and is likely the same one as what was used for the HD DVD. The limited budget and occasional guerrilla shooting tactics resulted in Acord using a lot of natural light, which had an effect on the transfer to high definition. The source is clean, other than a brief instance of a tiny black dot that appeared on Murray's head when they are sitting for sushi, and no digital anomalies were noticed.
During the night exteriors, the colors are bold, particularly those coming off the neon signs. Certain objects also have strong colors, like the lounge singer's red dress and Bob's orange camouflage shirt. In the other scenes, the colors tend to be softer. Blacks fluctuated between being solid and crushing depending on the amount of light in the scene. Contrast is also inconsistent as is the focus, which could be soft. Low-light scenes also accounted for an increase in grain and a decrease in shadow delineation.
The audio is given an upgrade to DTS-HD Master 5.1 and the elements are balanced well together for the most part. The dialogue out the front center is clear, except when they're at a club and the ambiance of the music is intended to cause the dialogue to be slightly muffled.
Very good ambiance offers slight surround immersion in different locations. Announcements over speakers can be heard during Bob's arrival at the airport and a great cacophony plays out as Charlotte wanders through an arcade. It also works in quieter moments, like when Bob swims in the hotel pool while an exercise class takes place. Cars and an elevated train can be heard moving across the channels as Bob and Charlotte run through the streets.
The one downfall in the audio is the fact that Kevin Shields's score occasionally has too much bass. During the opening sequence as Bob comes to town and when Charlotte visits a Buddhist temple, the bass is so strong it rumbles the subwoofer. The bass also gets thumping as Bob waits for Charlotte at a strip club while Peaches' "Fuck the Pain Away" blares, but in that instance a club would have the music too loud so it works. The bass is at just the right level during the karaoke sequence until then there's a little too much during Bob's rendition of "More Than This."
All these extras previously appeared on the 2007 HD DVD release and the 2004 DVD.
Sofia Coppola demonstrates an insightful understanding of both filmmaking and love in 'Lost in Translation', which ranks as my favorite romance of the 21st century. While the video wouldn't be mistaken for reference, the brilliance of the film and an awareness of its low-budget limitations compensate for its shortcomings. It would have been nice for some new features related to this film to have been included, but at least the audio delivers a satisfying experience.