Recently, I watched Lost In Translation, a little doozy of a film which isn’t usually the type of thing I would stick on my goggle-box on a Friday evening, but thought ‘What the hey – it’s been on my radar for a while now (radar being Netflix) so why not watch it. ‘It can’t be that bad’, I tempted myself further – it’s got Bill Murray on the logo. ‘Give it a go…’
And so I did.
It opens with a shot of the back of some girl named Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), lying on her side on a hotel bed, her crack on show translucently seen through her bland shapeless lady briefs. I initially found this a mundane, albeit, a mildly titillating opening, but as the film progressed it was clear that this was to set the mood for the duration of my viewing.
The key component to this lonesome, offbeat love story (which I classify as that, even though the ending left the viewer with a ‘did they/didn’t they’ situation) is the amazing atmosphere that permeates throughout. This film connects with the viewer what the two main characters are feeling – loneliness – without uttering to the audience one word of it. The way the girl and the much older guy, a has-been actor scraping ad commercials in Japan, connect on such a profound level really resonated with me: I felt their sorrow, I noticed how both of them must have felt inside when dealing with their bored, listless marriages. This film is the best example in recent years of how you don’t need to let the characters speak or do all that much in order for the audience to get what they’re going through.
Millions of people have been in a foreign country and have experienced how everyone speaks a language they cannot understand, and for that they are literally lost in translation. Because of this disconnect from the city of Tokyo around them, they form an unspoken bond – a translation of their yearning to feel noticed; and in their own lives, they don’t get that: the girl’s husband is a music photographer and is too caught up in that world to take notice of her, and the older guy’s wife only interact with him over the phone to ask him basic things, mentioning the kids, and asking when he’ll be back. The way the older guy’s wife talks to him however is done in such a moody way, a loveless way. No wonder he’s taking jobs half way across the world – he’s stuck in a loveless marriage.
So how do these two people, who would never have spoken to each other under other circumstances come to form a romance/close friendship?
Well, it all began with the girl asking the waitress to pass over a bowl of nuts to the older man at the bar, and from there they hit it off. He found out that she is a rather intelligent person, studying philosophy, and getting paid per bono and later finds out other stuff such as that she listens to an audiobook regarding finding your own soul’s passion in life. Later, he tackles this head on (as she denied, in a way, that this was her tape) and asked her what she wants to do with her life. It’s here we, the viewer, realise she is stuck in the shadow of her lover. She’s only in Tokyo to follow around her husband and his pursuit in his dreams, and it seems to have had an impact on the directionlessness(nessness…) of her own dreams. I mean, she’s tried things such as Photography, and gave writing ago but said she didn’t like what came out when she did, so it’s pretty evident that she’s a lost soul. Bob tells her that she’ll land on her feet, and that she shouldn’t give up on the writing (which I saw as a subtext to the director’s own personal experience, as I believe some of the film was in relation to her past encounter with someone in a foreign city. Don’t quote me on that, unless you want to look potentially stupid, which you’re not – I love you).
Bob on the other hand has become this blasé, almost jaded ghost of his former self. He’s stuck not only in his loveless relationship, but also in his dwindling actor career. He’s embarrassed whenever someone actually notices who he is, and hates the production of the whisky drinking advert he had to do. I found this very funny to watch, and loved how they made him play Roger Moore as opposed to Sean Connery, whom he thought was better. Charlotte brought out of Bob this realisation that perhaps it’s okay to feel upbeat once in a while. (Saying that, I did get a kick out of the despond faces Bill Murray had throughout this film. Priceless.)
She brought out his youthful side as they interacted in bars and a karaoke booth that overlooked the city. This scene (in the booth) was a key scene to the movie for me as it showed that, though both obviously drunk, there was real affection between them, plus that Bob is a real gentleman afterwards when he carried her back to her hotel room and tucked her in bed).
More signs that Bob had fallen in love with Charlotte included him suddenly extending his trip so that he can go do a chat show (which he ended up hating). Yet things take a backslide when he wakes up with the red haired jazz singer from the hotel bar, and Charlotte knocks on the door to hear that he has ‘company’. When they go for lunch later that day, it’s apparent that Charlotte is jealous, and Bob reacts like a sulky kid. Both are hurt by what had happened, and both vehemently regret it.
The film ends with Bob saying goodbye to Charlotte in the hotel lobby, and it all seems a bit anti-climatic. The Japanese greeters are there to distract him with photo poses and their barrage of bye byes, and Charlotte resides herself with going back to the lift, and looking dejectedly up to the sky.
Bob gets in the taxi. It’s all over. But wait – he spots the back of in her the busy city crowd. Her body’s figure so distinct to him as it was to us (the viewer) in the first scene of the movie. Bob gets out of the taxi. Runs up to her and calls out her name. Hugs her. Kisses her…
But we do NOT hear what he whispers into her ear. Damn it! What did he say? And alas the movie is over.
It’s a wonderful display of unspoken bonds in unfamiliar land. A movie that really captures the feelings of loneliness and isolation, even in a place so densely packed as Tokyo, Japan. Like I said as I started off this review: I wasn’t expecting to like this film so much as I did. Sure, it’s a slow burner, but it sure packs an emotional punch by the end.
I blubbed a bit. No shame there.