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Lost in Translation Review

By Shawn McKenzie 09/21/2003

I realize how tough it is for a well-known comedian to get any Oscar love.  Robin Williams was a rare case, winning Best Supporting Actor for 1997’s Good Will Hunting.  Jim Carrey was passed over two years in a row, for 1998’s The Truman Show and 1999’s Man on the Moon, despite the fact that he won a Golden Globe for both of those same roles.  Many people have been saying that Bill Murray should be nominated for an Oscar, and have been doing so since his role in 1993’s Groundhog Day.  I have been agreeing with them, but his latest try, Lost in Translation, isn’t exactly my favorite of his attempts.


Bob Harris (Murray) is an American movie star who is in Tokyo to shoot a series of ads for Suntory Whiskey for $2 million.  He is famous in America and Japan, but he isn’t happy.  He has been married to his wife Lydia for 25 years, and he is bored with it.  They used to be very close, but now their conversations consist of boring topics like carpet colors for their house.  Worst of all at this moment, he is suffering from insomnia while staying at the Park Hyatt hotel that the whiskey company put him up in.  The company tries entertaining him at one point by providing a “Premium Fantasy Woman” (Nao Asuka) whose lack of speaking correct English just makes him feel uncomfortable.  He meets Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a fellow insomniac, in the hotel lounge while watching the house band Sausolito’s singer (Catherine Lambert.)  Charlotte is a recent philosophy major graduate, but she is just there for her rock photographer husband, John (Giovanni Ribisi.)  Charlotte loves John, but she is bored in Tokyo because John is always working.  She also doesn’t like that he is working a lot with an American actress named Kelly (Anna Faris.)  Bob and Charlotte’s relationship is based on the common lack of sleep and needing someone to hang out with.  Despite the fact that they are separated by around thirty years of age, their friendship grows.  Bob decides to extend his stay in Tokyo by appearing on a talk show hosted by the “Johnny Carson of Japan” (Mathew Minami) in order to spend more time with Charlotte.  While it never crosses the line into an affair, Bob and Charlotte’s relationship develops into a special romance.


While I thought Murray was very funny in this movie, I thought the movie itself was somewhat boring overall.  I’ve said before in the past that I don’t understand depression, or at least depression without a reason.  I didn’t share the overall critical love for the movie The Hours for this reason.  I wonder if most movie critics are depressed.  Anyway…I realize that both Bob and Charlotte are bored in their marriages, but I think being depressed is not a solution.  I’m sorry, I just don’t get it.


There are highlights that were enjoyable.  While Bob was filming his commercials with the commercials’ director (Yutaka Tadokoro), the director’s long ramblings translated into short instructions like “look at camera.”  Later, while partying with a fashion magazine owner named Charlie Brown (Fumihiro Hayashi), Bob and Charlotte engage in some karaoke (Bob does a great version of Elvis Costello’s “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love & Understanding”), and karaoke scenes always get my attention.

I know that most critics are raving about Lost in Translation.  As of this writing, 95% of critics are giving it a good review on the Rotten Tomatoes website.  I actually liked the first film of the director, Sofia Coppola, called The Virgin Suicides, even though it also dealt with depression.  I think the difference there was that they actually explored the reasons behind their depression, where in this movie they just wallow in it.  I think if they had just left in the scenes with Murray and cut out the scenes with Johansson, it would have been a better movie.  Unfortunately, the movie would then not be considered a feature-length film, and actors in shorts don’t qualify for acting nominations for the Oscars.  That’s too bad, because I do believe Murray deserves a nomination, but not for this one.


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