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"Lost in Translation" Review

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Title: Lost in Translation

Starring: Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, Anna Faris, Giovanni Ribisi, Fumihiro Hayashi

Written by: Sofia Coppola

Directed by: Sofia Coppola

Rating: R for some sexual content.


Review by Stephen Silver

Already having made a debut film, 2000's "The Virgin Suicides," that was better than anything her father had directed since the '70s, Sofia Coppola outdoes herself with "Lost in Translation," a beautifully photographed, wonderfully realized story about a pair of bored Americans bonding in Japan.

The daughter of the man who directed "The Godfather" (and wife of Spike Jonze, and relative of an extended family of Hollywood luminaries, Ms. Coppola has now officially been redeemed for her infamous performance in "The Godfather Part III." Based partially on her experiences in a hotel while living in Tokyo with FFC as a teenager, "Lost in Translation" works on many levels- as a romance, a character study, a culture-clash comedy, and a technical achievement.

"Virgin Suicides" was a meditative drama that captured as well as any movie both the torture of teenage girls and the utter befuddlement felt by teenage boys about some girls. While not quite as dark, 'Translation' is also a movie about depressed people- but is clearly more about their redemption than their doom.

Bill Murray, playing a more fully realized version of his "Rushmore" character, stars as a washed-up American actor in Tokyo to shoot a vodka commercial for which he's being paid $2 million- yet can barely contain his boredom, discomfort, and dissatisfaction with his home life. He later meets an equally bored and adrift young woman (Scarlett Johansson), in Japan with her unloving photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi, in a bitingly welcome skewering of modern hipster culture).

In a movie that moves uncommonly slowly, there's nevertheless quite a bit going on: the Murray/Johannson relationship, Murray's commercial, their individual (and later mutual) adventures in Tokyo, and seemingly endless shots of shots of a bored-looking Johannson lying around her hotel room in only her underwear.

That last thing is a bit of a curious directorial choice by Coppola. Just as she put an extra-special focus on Kirsten Dunst's breasts and other body parts in 'Suicides,' Coppola begins "Lost in Translation" with a long closeup on Johannson's derriere, and in at least a half-dozen scenes focuses on the actress' shapely, uncovered legs. A commentary on Laura Mulvey's writings on the "scopophilic gaze"? A hint of latent lesbianism on the director's part? I can only speculate, though like Dunst prior to 'Virgin Suicides,' the 19-year-old Johansson has heretofore been known only a child actress, her infamous blowjob attempt on Billy Bob Thornton in "The Man Who Wasn't There" notwithstanding.

And while the Japan scenes (including both karaoke and an "Iron Chef"-like game show) are often hilarious, the true heart of the film is the relationship between the two leads- totally unconventional yet totally believeable at every turn. The furthest thing from a formulaic romance imaginable, the outcome is actually not obvious from the start.

Some will call the film's resolution a copout, but I honestly don't remember when I've found a film's ending more satisfying. A totally original and warm-hearted tale, "Lost in Translation" truly establishes Sofia Coppola in the pantheon of the best young American directors, along with her husband Spike Jonze, Wes Anderson, M. Night Shyamalan, and Paul Thomas Anderson.

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