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With: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Giovanni Ribisi, Anna Faris, Fumihiro Hayashi
Written by: Sofia Coppola
Directed by: Sofia Coppola
MPAA Rating: R for some sexual content
Running Time: 102
Date: 08/29/2003

Lost in Translation (2003)

4 Stars (out of 4)

'Lost' and Found

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

No doubt about it, Bill Murray has made quite a few great movies, Groundhog Day and Rushmore among them. But in his new film Lost in Translation, written and directed by Sofia Coppola, he demolishes everything he's ever done and leaves it in smoking ruins. He turns in such an accomplished performance of such heartbreaking power that we should just hand him the Oscar right now.

Up until now, Murray has made a habit of giving but never receiving. He can always make other people laugh, but others rarely affect him. Rushmore broke new ground in a small way, showing an earthy sadness covered up by the clowning. But Coppola dismantles this shield for the first time in Murray's 25-year career. She allows him to be funny -- as funny as he's ever been -- but also catches him in touchingly human moments we've never seen from him before.

In one lovely scene he explains how kids can change one's life, but that when they learn to talk, they're "the most delightful people you've ever met."

Murray is only one of many superb elements in Coppola's new film, a masterpiece to compare with her father's best work at this age: namely, The Godfather.

Set in Tokyo, Lost in Translation follows Bob Harris (Murray), a burned-out American actor who now works hocking whiskey in Japanese print and TV ads. He's so out of place that he towers over every other person in the hotel elevator.

He stays in the same hotel with a newly married couple: rock photographer Giovanni Ribisi and his beautiful wife Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a graduate with a philosophy degree but no job. While Ribisi is off working, shooting pictures of shallow rock stars and movie stars, Charlotte gets increasingly bored, magnified by the fact that she can't sleep.

Bob can't sleep either; the two travelers often meet each other in the hotel, rolling their eyes at some uniquely Japanese pop music or other jangly noises. As their insomnia and boredom mount, they form a kind of sweet friendship, based on mutual loneliness and alienation.

We fear some kind of gruesome May-December fling, but Coppola surprises us. In fact, she not only surprises us, but she gives us the sweetest, most awe-inspiring ending of the year so far. I nearly wept from the sheer joy of it.

Did I spend too much space praising Murray and not enough on Johansson? With this, Ghost World and The Man Who Wasn't There, Johansson emerges as perhaps our most promising young actress, far too smart and severe to get stuck playing routine idiot blondes in American Pie rip-offs. Her intense beauty and deep, reflective eyes are only a bonus.

Just a few months ago, Claude Berri tried to cover this same ground -- middle-aged loneliness meets young angst -- with The Housekeeper, and did an admirable job of it. But Coppola does him one better by exploring both parts of the relationship -- and getting inside of it. Her Tokyo has two sides: a thing of quiet beauty -- as when Charlotte adds her paper "wish" to the tree -- and a noisy, electronic beast, twittering and blinking at all hours of the night.

As with her debut feature, The Virgin Suicides, Coppola shows an unerring sense for music, showering Lost in Translation with exactly the right pop tunes for exactly the right moments, as when Murray sings Roxy Music's "More Than This" at a Karaoke party and gazes at Johansson in some lost, lonely way. Every physical moment perfectly reflects the characters' inner lives.

I love Lost in Translation with all my heart. Do not miss this wonderful, wonderful film.

Focus's DVD release lacks a commentary track but comes with a very cool little featurette shot (uncredited) by Sofia's then-husband Spike Jonze. It also comes with a music video, a "converstaion" between Coppola and Murray and extended/deleted scenes.

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