Lost in Translation


Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation has been a frustrating little movie for those of us who have championed it. I saw this movie in the theater when it first came out and loved it. I recommended it to friends and family members, most of whom saw it on video. Their response was almost unanimous: it sucked, nothing happened, the two main characters were a couple of passive lumps who never did anything. First I checked the obvious alternatives. Either my friends and family had all seen the wrong movie or they had been replaced by alien pod people. How could such intelligent, rational people take such a passionate dislike to this little gem of a movie.

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The only thing I can guess is that there is something about Lost in Translation that requires the big screen to fully experience. Neither of the two lead performances are broadly emotional, depending on quiet nuance instead. This is not a film about explosions but about two people in danger of imploding.

Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is in Tokyo with her photographer husband (Gionvanni Ribisi), who leaves her alone in their hotel room while he goes on shooting assignments. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is an aging movie star, in Tokyo to shoot a commercial for whiskey. His relationship with his family would be distant even if they were in the same room. Neither of these people have any friends or other connections in the giant city and both are lonely and bored out of their minds.


One night, they collide in the hotel bar and connect. In another story, they might head straight to bed for an R-rated bump and grind, but this is not another story. Instead, as Charlotte’s husband takes off on another multi-day assignment, leaving her to her own devices, they come up with something even more original than sex: friendship and experiences they would not have had if not for each other. Fleeing the hotel, they spend one night on the town, at a Karaoke bar and party’s thrown by people who might loosely be described as acquaintances.

Describing the plot of this film is pointless because there isn’t much of one. This isn’t a story where the heroes have a problem that needs to be solved by the end, except for the problem of sitting in a hotel room staring at the same four walls. From that point, this film is a walking tour of nighttime Tokyo, seen through the eyes of two fishes very far from water. No one falls in love, even if Charlotte is momentarily hurt by Bob’s one-night stand with another woman. I don’t think even she knows quite why it bothers her. There are also no great revelations that leave either character a changed person. They leave Tokyo pretty much the same people they were when they arrived, except that their time in the city was a lot more tolerable, thanks to meeting each other.

16 thoughts on “Lost in Translation

  1. gman

    can you explain why you liked it?

    I was mixed (I live in Tokyo). I had sympathy for Bill Murray’s character but zero for Charlotte. She was in TOKYO! For the first time, even alone she should have had a blast and then could have had a break down after she got home.

    (ps: I live in Tokyo)

  2. Lisa


    Caught your blog randomly, and I have to say you’re doing a great job. Thanks for the great reviews. I swear this isn’t a spam comment, but I have a movie review site of my own: lisareviews.blogspot.com. I’d really love your feedback about my reviews if you ever get a chance to stop by. Thanks in advance and, do you mind if I link to you in my blog?

  3. Pomgirl

    i love that film, especially the scene at the end which melted my heart…sometimes i think that people can get too caught up in needing a plot, when they could sit back and let themselves get caught up in the whole experience…
    I have enjoyed reading the other comments about this film especially the one that says that she was in ‘TOKYO!’ and should have been having a ‘blast’..hmm..wouldn’t quite be the same film?
    i really identified with that ‘lost’ feeling of being in a hotel room in an alien city/country and still being yourself with all your usual problems.

    this is the first time I have looked at your blog…enjoying it so far..


  4. Mom

    I am one who loved this movie. I was awed by Bill Murray’s very subtle performance. I remember best what a good man he was. He touched her but didn’t attempt to go any further. I respected him. You never see this in movies. Men always do the “expected thing” which is to hit on the girl, no matter how much older they are. Hurray for the unexpected in this quiet movie.

  5. Douglas Ayling

    Hi, I loved this film because for me it evokes quite effectively that feeling of being a foreigner in Japan. Bill Murray’s facial expression of bemused resignation says a lot of what needs to be said – and what can be said in the face of cultural difference. And it’s a pretty film, cinematographically. I first saw it on DVD with my Japanese mother and British step-father. We laughed.

  6. Rieux

    Hey Paul, I made similar experiences with Lost in Translation. I watched it on the big screen when I was in Warsaw (Poland) for several weeks (actually I live in Germany). I was so enthusiastic about the movie. Later I talked with a friend of mine who had just watched it on DVD. He is a real cineaste as I am. He told me that he couldn’t understand why everybody went crazy. What’s that all about? he asked.
    I talked with other guys and many who hasn’t watched it on the screen were kind of disappointed.

  7. Abigail S.

    Sorry, but I have to say that I didn’t like it. IT seemed to have no real plot, no depth, no climax, and lacking in other ways too. If you saw more to it, then that’s good. I wish I could see it your way. Oh, well.

  8. Ruchi

    Hey Paul,
    Nice to see ur blog. I find it really intersting. Being a movie freak m gona turn up to it every now and then. By the way its a surprise for me that we two share the same template. May be u should check it out. As for the movie i loved it too. I dont even remember how many times i have seen it. I love the way bill murray keeps the funny bone tickled with his expressions even when there is not much to do in the movie. And another reason i like the movie is that i see myself in the character of charlotte as i lived in japan for quite a while as a foreigner.

  9. cooladd

    Great blog you have 🙂 I thought this film was impressive. It really made me want to experience Tokyo and Japan myself. I find the movie very simple yet very moving in parts.I think i need to watch it again to see weither i can get anything more from it. thankyou, from adam. Check out my blog if you get chance. http://cooladd.blogspot.com/

  10. Lonely Coyote

    I agree with you that the Lost in Translation is a good movie. And I didn’t get a chance to see it on the big screen, so I bought it one the chance that I would like it, and I love it. Though I do think the characters of Charlotte and Bob have been changed, just by the simple human contact that went on between them. Their problems are still unresolved, but they know they’ve got a friend out there somewhere. Or I could just be crazy.

  11. Punkass

    Excellent blog you’ve got here btw.

    Just had to add my comment on Lost in Translation, I loved it, can’t explain why, but your review sums it up very well.

    I’d just love to know what was whispered at the end of the film!!

  12. Renee

    Fabulous movie.

    The ending is so bittersweet.

    Two souls made a connection they’ll never see again.

    But Bob’s whispered words at the end turns it into “sad sigh, it’s okay, life goes on” instead of “rip your heart out to leave you an empty shell”.


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