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Lost in Translation

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Lost in Translation

Sofia Coppola’s second written and directed feature film shows that she’s an auteur to be reckoned with in her own right, no longer living under daddy’s (sizable) industry shadow. Unlike many people, I thoroughly enjoyed The Virgin Suicides, so it was with welcome relief that Lost in Translation confirmed Coppola’s talent. Lost in Translation seems to have polarised audiences; there’s no middle ground, you either love it or hate it. I, as you’ve surmised by now, loved it. Coppola extracted the best and most subtle performance I’ve ever seen from Bill Murray as the aging movie star protagonist, Bob Harris. Combined with Scarlett Johansson’s wonderfully lost character Charlotte, Coppola manages to map a world of neon, jetlag and culture shock, otherwise known as Tokyo. As Bob is paid to millions to endorse a Japanese whiskey, and Charlotte drifts in her inattentive photographer husband’s wake, the two gravitate together as insomnia and a hotel bar see an unlikely friendship kindled between the two. Charlotte is searching for direction, while Bob has almost given up on his, and the two bond surprisingly intensely over karaoke, sushi and cultural displacement (but not really wanting to return to their ‘real’ lives, either). Coppola wrote the character of Bob with Murray in mind, and she milks his usual dark humour for all its worth. Johansson, by contrast, brings a certain naiveté to her role, but the two mix perfectly. Combined with some brilliant scenes and amazing cinematography, Coppola shows no fear as a director. Some shots seem to last forever, but end up capturing the sense of people out of time, out of their comfort zone, with precision. Murray and Johansson are definitely Oscar contenders for their work on Lost in Translation and while Coppola might not have been in the trade long enough for a Best Director nod as yet, she’s definitely well on the way. A must-see film!

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  • I also thoroughly enjoyed this movie. I think the best part was the cinematography (sp?) and minimal dialogue. Most of the story and emotion was told very well by images alone. I liked how Bob’s and Charlotte’s relationship bordered on the Lolita-ish throughout the whole movie without seeming sleazy or dirty. They were just two people caught in similar circumstances – estranged from their normal lives.

  • One of the remarkable things about “Lost In Translation” is the use of low-cost digital video for the cinematography. That is the digital future of movies, small, cheap, niche movies, not bloated, useless spectacles and masses of noise, etc. In his Movie Answer Man column Roger Ebert got a question about the stupid “R” rating given “Lost In Translation” (try and find something) which is the same as “Kill Bill”.

    Frank Rich has a column about the changes Hollywood is undergoing, relying on hugely expensive blockbusters at a time the market (as teevee has already done) is fragmenting into niches.

    For those who cherish a vital pop culture this is good news. While 2003 was a year marked by the further consolidation of power by a handful of mega-media companies, the audience is not without some power to fight against them. The more we reject embarrassing big-ticket stunts like “Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle” and “Coupling,” the riskier it becomes to produce bloated would-be crowd-pleasers chasing after a theoretically homogeneous crowd. Vanity — and perhaps the possibility of found money — might even drive the media giants to bolster their output of more diversified, less costly and perhaps better products that speak to our various niches: movies like last year’s “Lost in Translation,” “Capturing the Friedmans,” “American Splendor,” “Monster,” “Thirteen,” “In America,” “Fog of War” and “Spellbound.”

    The best thing to hope is the success of “Lost In Translation” will lead to more small-scale, niche movies made on a rational budget. As I write, “Lost In Translation” is still playing in theatres here in Toronto, more than 3 months after opening. Remember when newspaper ads for movies used to tout how many weeks or months they’d been playing at a particular theatre?

  • I didn’t know they shot digital on that movie. The movie was pretty good, although I think it dragged in certain parts. Murray was perfect for that part as well.

  • The reason they shot on digital is it is cheap and fast. They could shoot on the run without a huge crew and take advantage of improvisation and immediately know what they had.

    Similar reasons behind “28 Days Later” which was also shot on DV — especially for the deserted London scenes, they only had brief periods of less than an hour to get shots (the commentary by Danny Boyle is quite interesting for cheap, fast shooting).

  • William Donaruma

    I wonder where all these rumors start about various movies shooting digitally. Lost in Translation was NOT shot digitally. It used a Moviecam 35 camera with Kodak Vision 500T film. Minimal lighting, but all on film.