A consistently intelligent (or at least bright), coherently constructed comedy that is on occasion a rather pointed critique of the American education system in the…
The Japanese phrase "mono no aware," is a bittersweet reference to the transience of life. It came to mind as I was watching "Lost in Translation," which is sweet and sad at the same time it is sardonic and funny. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson play two lost souls rattling around a Tokyo hotel in the middle of the night, who fall into conversation about their marriages, their happiness and the meaning of it all.
These conversations can really only be held with strangers. We all need to talk about metaphysics, but those who know us well want details and specifics; strangers allow us to operate more vaguely on a cosmic scale. When the talk occurs between two people who could plausibly have sex together, it gathers a special charge: you can only say "I feel like I've known you for years" to someone you have not known for years. Funny, how your spouse doesn't understand the bittersweet transience of life as well as a stranger encountered in a hotel bar. Especially if drinking is involved.
Murray plays Bob Harris, an American movie star in Japan to make commercials for whiskey. "Do I need to worry about you, Bob?" his wife asks over the phone. "Only if you want to," he says. She sends him urgent faxes about fabric samples. Johansson plays Charlotte, whose husband John is a photographer on assignment in Tokyo. She visits a shrine and then calls a friend in America to say, "I didn't feel anything." Then she blurts out: "I don't know who I married." She's in her early 20s, Bob's in his 50s. This is the classic set-up for a May-November romance, since in the mathematics of celebrity intergenerational dating you can take five years off the man's age for every million dollars of income. But "Lost in Translation" is too smart and thoughtful to be the kind of movie where they go to bed and we're supposed to accept that as the answer. Sofia Coppola, who wrote and directed, doesn't let them off the hook that easily. They share something as personal as their feelings rather than something as generic as their genitals.
These are two wonderful performances. Bill Murray has never been better. He doesn't play "Bill Murray" or any other conventional idea of a movie star, but invents Bob Harris from the inside out, as a man both happy and sad with his life -- stuck, but resigned to being stuck. Marriage is not easy for him, and his wife's voice over the phone is on autopilot. But he loves his children. They are miracles, he confesses to Charlotte. Not his children specifically, but -- children.