Lost In Translation (2003)

lost in translation

“The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.”

The Scoop: 2003 R, directed by Sofia Coppola and starring Scarlett Johansson, Bill Murray, and Akiko Takeshita

Tagline: Everyone wants to be found.

Summary Capsule: An older actor and a young newlywed wander around Tokyo together, depressed and despairing. And the Golden Globes calls it the best comedy or musical of the year.


Lissa’s rating: To quote my younger sister in her more obnoxious days, “So funny I forgot to laugh.”

Lissa’s review: Okay. I was going to wait until you actually had a chance at seeing Lost in Translation again to review this one (like when it was on video), but after the Golden Globes this needed to be said.

I hated Lost In Translation. Hated it hated it hated it.

If this were a hoity-toity pretentious critic’s site, I would have to go on about direction and acting and deeper meanings of life. And I do have to say the acting is top notch, and Bill Murray so deserved the Golden Globe he got. But this is not a hoity-toity pretentious critic’s site, it’s the Mutant Reviewers From Hell, and so I can honestly tell you how much I utterly despised this movie.

Lost In Translation is the baby of Sofia Coppola, who is the baby of Francis Ford Coppola, of Godfather fame. My first exposure to Ms. Coppola was The Virgin Suicides, which I watched mainly because Josh Hartnett was in it (in a REALLY bad wig). I didn’t really like it, because I didn’t really see her point — or didn’t like her point. Maybe a little of both. Lost in Translation has a very similar, dreamy, meandering feel. That’s strike one.

It’s a story about two lost souls, I guess. Two Americans (Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson) find themselves confused and bored in Japan. Bob’s an aging, famous actor that’s been married for years, Charlotte’s a not-so-newlywed whose marriage is experiencing growing pains. They’re both depressed, and they form a platonic relationship fraught with sexual tension. It’s filled with philosophy and two people constantly being depressed, and why the heck the Golden Globes considered it a comedy I’ll never, ever know.

Heck, this movie is touted as a comedy everywhere. I had a few laughs in it — there’s a reasonable scene of people singing karaoke, and a few other funny moments, but nowhere was I falling out of my seat laughing. Even my husband, who loved this movie, didn’t really find it that, well, -funny-. Lesson to everyone out there who didn’t watch The Royal Tenenbaums, Bill Murray does not automatically a comedy make. He’s good in this, no doubt, but he’s not doing a reprise of Dr. Venkman.

I guess Lost In Translation is not necessarily a bad movie, despite the slow pace and the plethora of people staring out windows to express their sadness. But I hated this movie with a passion, and I think it’s because of the message and the point. This is a movie about finding out who you are, and finding that identity inside the context of marriage. That’s totally fine with me. But neither freaking character seems to be able to offer an answer to the first, or a positive answer to the second.

Hollywood, let’s get something straight. I know that marriage can be hard. I know that it’s a lifelong commitment, and it’s not always easy. I know that there are a lot of people out there that shouldn’t be married. But a lot of people should. Marriage can be good, and entering into one is NOT the end of all that is good in life, and it’s not a cop out. And that was the impression I really took from this. Bob and Charlotte were both unhappy in their respective marriages at the beginning, and I didn’t think either of them would end up happy at the end.

And even worse, I just wanted to shake both characters and shout at them “WAKE UP! DO SOMETHING!” Both of them knew they were miserable. Did they try to fix it? No. Did they attempt to find something that made them happy? No. Instead they wandered around the streets of Tokyo together, stare out windows (there was a lot of window staring), and look mournful. At no time does Charlotte attempt to even TALK to her husband about what’s bothering her. At no point do we ever find out why Bob’s wife is so horrible. In fact, their spouses seem to care quite deeply for Bob and Charlotte — they just don’t provide them with attention and longing gazes every second of every day.

I think the reason I despised this movie is that we are meant to sympathize with Charlotte and Bob, and I can not muster up a single amount of sympathy for them. Their problems are all of their own making, not created by the spouses they so conveniently blame. And by the end of the movie, nothing about their lives is all that different. What was the point? What was the bloody point of this movie?

It’s been winning awards out the wazoo, and my husband (who does have decent taste in movies) likes it, so it can’t be that bad. I think it’s one of those movies you love or you hate, and you can guess which side of the fence I fell on. Oh well. I’m in the minority, it appears, so have fun listening to me scream my anguish come Oscar time!

Kyle’s rating: I’m with Lissa, kinda

Kyle’s review: Lost in Translation is one of those films that I sometimes encounter where I wish I could have seen it on the very first day it was released, but I didn’t, so I have to assume that maybe things would have been different if I wasn’t such a shameless info-ho. I can admit it: I’m an info-ho. I’m using the internet, I’m at the store reading magazines I have no intention of buying, and I’m blabbing about general mass media madness at my local coffee shops and Mexican food stands. It’s a lifestyle, what can I say? Regardless, I had experienced a whole lot of criticism and debate and adoration and total antipathy towards Lost in Translation before I got around to actually seeing it. To say this influenced my actual viewing of the movie would be an understatement.

So, I kind of didn’t like it. But at the same time, I really enjoyed it. In fact, I rented it and watched it once, and I’m so torn on whether or not I liked it that I’ve decided not to buy it. No, instead I’m going to try to swoop in at the last minute on an eBay auction for a cheap asian import DVD of Lost in Translation, and have that to keep. This may be a first for MRFH, but I’m actually writing this review while I watch the auction’s ending time slowly approach so I can outbid the fool who outbid me yesterday. Ha ha ha ha ha! Thanks to me being in California, everyone is probably asleep thanks to the time zones! Or something. I don’t know how those work. I am dumb.

Woo hoo! I just won Translation, and now I’m going for Bad Boys II and SWAT! Meanwhile, let’s finish up this review, eh? Oh, wait, I won them all! Yes! Next is a Volcom jean jacket! But anyway, see how much of a consumer I am? It’s a pretty crazy sickness, and it kind of goes against everything Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson’s characters are all about. So maybe that’s why I’m a little opposed to the movie: I’m not like these people! I’m more like the wife with the multiple carpet samples and the photographic husband who may or may not have a crush on Anna Faris (I sure do!). So Lost in Translation is tough for me and for all those like me, because we watch this and it’s like “Man, I’d like to beat these people up if I could. Not the girl, of course, nor Bill Murray because he’s awesome and because he’s old and that’s illegal, I think. Nor the Japanese people, because that’s racist. But I would certainly get mad and yell at them for a while, soaking their shirtfronts with my spittle.” That might be your reaction to this film as well, so be prepared.

But then, I am like Bill Murray. It’s not that the previous paragraph was full of deceit and subterfuge, no, far from it. It’s just that my quiet and melancholy philosophical side only comes out at the beach on the weekends, when I’m away from friends and family and I don’t have to be “on” and funny and hyper all the time to get attention and make up for my unattractiveness and receding hairline. It’s when I’m alone that I’m most comfortable and therefore most vulnerable, just like Murray and Johansson here. And it’s been my experience that when I make a connection with someone (usually a blonde 20-something girl, though beggars can’t be choosers) in that particular state, it’s dreamy, it’s incredible, and it’s beautifully fragile. It’s something to remember for the rest of your life, and it’s something that you should know going in isn’t going to last so you should cherish every second. I’ve had a couple of those types of beautiful moments in my life, and I’m always hoping for another one. If you’ve had one, then you’ll connect with this movie. You may or may not love it, or even like it, but you’ll definitely understand the film more than most and spend its duration with a wistful smile on your face.

Life is just really complex. You go on and do the best you can and you hope you’ll end up in a happy place, but sometimes your destination doesn’t match up to your expectations. Do you step back and walk away to start anew, or do you sigh and settle down and make the best of what’s around? There is the potential in everyone’s life to drop out of their current life and try to start over again to get something better. The conflict between the phantom goals that are tantalizing us to start fresh and the very real constants in our lives-as-they-are is something we all face, and it’s that conflict that’s at the heart of Lost in Translation. Murray and Johansson make a connection in this film. Is it worth losing everything to follow it through? Will it only last a little while? Should it only last a little while? Chances are we all have different ways of answering that conundrum. Lost in Translation presents one way to go. Check it out if only to get a sense of what these beautiful transitory moments are like and how they can go, so that you’ll know what you’ll want to do when you’re in the middle of one. Good luck!

Clare’s rating: Bill Murray is so seriously underrated it hurts my feelings sometimes.

Clare’s review: Unlike my Mutant cohorts, I really loved Lost in Translation. Sure. Yes. It’s not for everyone. And sure. Yes. If you’re not in the right kind of mood to watch it, you’d probably find it difficult to maneuver through. It’s one of the movies I’ve put in my heretofore unmentioned “good on a rainy day when you’re feeling melancholy” movies. It’s not really depressing per se, but it moves at a pace and unfolds in a way that moves slower and more deliberately than most movies. Nothing blows up. Nobody stabs anybody. There are no car chases. It’s quiet. It’s slow. It’s subtle. If you’re in the right mood and can hang with that for a little while, I think it’s well worth the time.

Lost in Translation is definitely one of those movies that people either love or hate and since we’ve heard a hate and a sort-of-hate review of it, I thought it only fair to throw in a love review.

Here’s why I love this movie.

The acting is ridiculously good. Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray inhabit these characters so fully and with such restraint and subtlety that you can watch each scene repeatedly and find some new quiet choice they make that really helps you to understand who they are. There isn’t a lot of talking in this movie. I mean, there’s plenty of it. But what’s really going on with and between these two characters is found almost entirely in what they DON’T say. The story of this movie is found in the empty spaces between the music. So, if you don’t look there or don’t see that the empty spaces aren’t actually empty at all, this movie, I must imagine, is annoying and boring.

I looked and I liked what I found. You might too.

I really enjoyed the parallels drawn between the two characters. She’s a young, newly married woman basically adrift in her own life, trying to figure out what she wants to do with herself and who she is in the context of her marriage. When we meet her she is stuck, basically alone, in a foreign country that is beautiful and mysterious to her but really, really far away from anything she knows or can find comfort in. He’s a middle-aged man at the end of a career that brought him fame and fortune, but no sense of real accomplishment. He finds himself doing really lame and meaningless advertisements in Japan to cover the bills, but he’s basically cashed out and has no real sense of what the hell he’s doing any more. He’s a man who’s looking back at the choices he’s made in his life and finding that the result of all the stuff he thought he was supposed to find happiness in is quite lacking.

So, when they meet at the hotel they’re both staying in and strike up a relationship that at its origin is made mostly because they both speak English and seem to be on their own (both literally and figuratively), they are instantly drawn to one another. As they spend more time together, while their interactions contain some elements of sexual attraction, more specifically, in my estimation, they are filled with tension of another sort. They’re both at a stopping point in their lives and are both in search of something. So when they find this other person in the midst of this entirely foreign experience who seems to understand them and see them in a way they can’t even see themselves, they both have a real sense of urgency about their desire to spend time together. It’s not really a physical sexual tension. It’s more of an emotional intimacy tension. And, for the most part, that whole element of their shared attraction to one another goes entirely unspoken.

The thing that makes their relationship work is the fact that, had they met under any other circumstances, where outside forces, like their families or their friends or even just the trappings of the lives they live outside of this week in this place at this time, they wouldn’t be able to connect with one another so honestly or specifically. Their relationship is insulated and based entirely on circumstance. They know that once their stay at the hotel ends, so does this weirdly forged, completely unexpected mutual connection to one another. So, with a really interestingly subdued level of urgency, they both try as they might to make the most of it. And the friendship they create fills them both with something they needed but didn’t even know they were lacking.

There. How’s that for hoity-toity character analysis?

My point is that the thing I love about Lost in Translation is the thing that most people I know will sight for hating it. It doesn’t hit you over the head with anything. It sets a sense of time and place, it introduces you to these characters and then it asks you to pay attention to the subtle, quiet, unspoken ways in which these two lost people find each other and how their relationship, as vague and indefinable as it is, helps them both to become a little less lost in their own lives.

I don’t know how to recommend this movie. Because I can’t guarantee that you’ll like it. In fact, there’s a chance you’ll hate it. But if you’re willing to walk into it with an open mind and are willing to put a little work into investigating what you’re being shown, I really believe that it’s well worth watching. It tells a story in a way that most movies don’t. Some people think it works and others don’t. I happen to think it’s fantastic, rich, interesting and really unique. Maybe you’ll find the same thing. Give it a shot.

Nancy’s rating: Whiskey & Cigarettes in Japan

Nancy’s review: This review leans more towards analysis and fanaticism then it does actual review. It’s also pretty detailed. Keep that in mind while reading. Or, don’t read. Whateva.

I applied the Blair Witch Technique to this film, where as the hype around it was so annoying that I just cast it aside and waited three or four views to few the film. Blair Witch scared the hell out of me and Lost In Translation hit me hard, emotionally. It works. It’s my current plan for Da Vinci Code.

I loved this movie. It catered to every single one of my stupid philosophical theories, and it blew me away with how simply beautiful and simultaneously frustrating it was. It takes a bustling, pretty and meaningless world and it sticks you in it. It takes that nerve in you, the ’Looking-For-Greater-Purpose’ nerve or whatever it’s called, it irritates the hell out of it until you’re grating your teeth and almost crying.

I think maybe the reason that this film is so widely disputed is because you have to find some way to relate or understand Bob and Charlotte or else they just seem whiny, discontent and boring. They do spend a lot of time looking out windows, but I don’t feel like they should be doing anything else. They convey that feeling of wanting to be happy again but not quite sure how to do that. When you want to do something but all of your options seem a little trivial. Everything you’re presented with feels a little stale. You try to fall back on love, the person who is supposed to exhilarate you and put some meaning into your life, but even love and relationships get repetitive. You don’t know what to do. You don’t have a meaning in life. You’re bored and sad, and the person you love most doesn’t get it.

Which brings me to another one of my silly little things that I think about a lot. Bob and Charlotte’s spouses didn’t seem to get it. There seems to be a dividing line of people who get it, and people who don’t. People who understand Bob and Charlotte, and people who just think they are whiny and depressed. Well, it’s not even so much ’it’, but it’s more like ’you’. There are people in your life who will get you, and there are people who won’t. Sofia Coppola took that part of herself and channeled it into two characters, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson got it and took that part of themselves and exposed it, and some people related and some people didn’t. It makes me wonder if Sofia’s husband got her.

See, I’ve always found that the people who get me most clearly and understand what I mean when I philosophize out loud, there isn’t attraction between us. It’s difficult to flirt with these people, because I feel like they get it, they see right through me, they know my intentions and I know theirs. There’s no fun giggling or toying or guessing between me and these people. And the people I have had that flirtatious relationship with, they always sort of stare at me blankly when I try to explain why I’m feeling melancholy that day. It led me to believe that maybe you aren’t “supposed to” fall in love with someone who understands you completely. Maybe that would be perfect, and maybe that would take all the necessary struggle and pain out of love. And with that, the fun.

Bob and Charlotte’s significant others love them like crazy, but they don’t really get what’s wrong. Bob and Charlotte get each other, and maybe that’s why they can never be with each other. They do love each other, but in a different way. I see it as they love that they understand each other, love each other for being there and getting it, but those two characters simply can’t have a life together. Or maybe they just can’t be together cause they’re both married. And Bill Murray is a lot older. And not Steve Buscemi.

It’s frustrating. Other movies, let’s say Saved! or Garden State, don’t back up my ‘lovers don’t quite understand’ theory. A lot of you out there are married – you probably think differently. So maybe not. But I don’t know. One of the many things Lost In Translation left me philosophizing about.

Regarding acting, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson weren’t even acting, they were these characters. They completely embodied the feeling of restlessness and companionship so well, it was amazing. Bill Murray felt like the most real person I’ve ever seen on screen. He was an actual man, an actual intelligent and confused man. He was funny and he was sad. I had a complete girl-crush on Scarlett in this movie – she was beautiful. She had that double embodiment of a little confused girl and a mature, intelligent woman. She was witty, adorable, discontent and soft-spoken. She rocked this role.

Watching their companionship develop had you on the edge of your seat, wanting them to kiss and knowing they shouldn’t and not wanting that at all, actually, all at the same time. I noticed every time Bob touched her – he put his hand on her shoulder, he touched her foot (that part was great), he put his hand on the back of her neck when he hugged her. It was all somewhat juvenile, but it’s sweet. Every little move he makes is a big deal, as opposed to most movies today, where guys are putting arms around girls all over the place. I know I sound grandmother-esque, but back in my day, the smallest touch or sign of affection was a huge deal that massive amounts of courage required. That’s why it’s fantastic whenever Bob touches Charlotte, because he means it so much and it takes so much for him to do so.

If you can’t relate, or you like your movies with intense plots where things…happen, then this movie probably isn’t for you. But before I saw it, I was so put-off by the threats of slow-pacing and boredom. I thought you had to be a real pretentious intellectual to fully appreciate this movie. I don‘t want you to think that. If you can even mildly relate to the feeling of not fitting in anywhere and not knowing what to do about it, then this film is for you. Make sure that this film catches you in the right mood. If it’s raining or you feel lost or something. I think it’s worth anyone’s time if they have an ‘it’ for someone to get.



  • The script for Lost in Translation was 25 pages (so I heard), and it was filmed in 27 days.
  • The part of Bob was written specifically for Bill Murray, and if Bill Murray had turned it down, the movie wouldn’t have been made.
  • Kelly looks a lot like Kirsten Dunst?
  • Japanese restaurant menus make choosing food easy.
  • Opening shots designed to draw in the male demographic.
  • Lots of the film was improv’d

Groovy Quotes

Bob: What are you doing?
Charlotte: My husband’s a photographer, so he’s here working. I wasn’t doing anything so I came along.
Bob: What do you do?
Charlotte: I’m not sure yet, actually.

Bob: Can you keep a secret? I’m trying to organize a prison break. We have to first get out of this bar, then the hotel, then the city, and then the country. Are you in or you out?
Charlotte: I’m in.

Charlotte: I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be.
Bob: You’ll figure that out. The more you know who you are, and what you want, the less you let things upset you.

Charlotte: I tried taking pictures, but they were so mediocre. I guess every girl goes through a photography phase. You know, horses… taking pictures of your feet.

Stills Photographer: Are you drinking, no?
Bob: Am I drinking?
Stills Photographer: Yeah.
Bob: As soon as I’m done.

Charlotte: You’re probably just having a mid-life crisis. Did you buy a Porsche yet?

Bob: What kind of restaurant makes you cook your own food?

If you liked this movie, try these:

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