Written and directed by Soffia Coppola, the 2003 Oscar winner tells the story of two strangers meeting in Tokyo, and the unlikely relationship that they form during their stay. The low-key lighting and natural camera angles present an invitation to the audience to join the pair on their introspective journey. By setting the two Americans in Japan, Coppola gives us a very broad stage full of mysticism and wonder, cultural bells and whistles. At times we are left gawking at the serenity of the backdrops, and the cinematography leaves us feeling as though we needed passports before the film was over.
The use of language and communication barriers inherent in a foreign country seemed to be more than just a minor detail in Coppola’s story; the Japanese characters blended into the background, becoming more props and wings upon a stage than actual characters. Our attention was instead diverted to the budding relationship between Bob and Charlotte. At this point, acting becomes the crux of a film’s success; even the busy streets of Tokyo were merely backdrop to the story of friendship and second-guessing that Coppola gifts us.
With Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray in the lead roles, the value laden dialogue was delivered subtly and expertly. Good dialogue, strong body language and facial expressions ensured the emotional link between the actors and the audience. Like watching two people in an otherwise empty room, we were captivated by their interactions, and the film could have been easily set anywhere in the world. This movement away from plots with a crucial and specific setting places all of the importance upon emotion and allows for an incredibly human experience. Like the setting, the physical plot of the film had very little specificity and could have been easily replaced by any number of different actions with little effect. The physical action acted more to lend a sense of reality to the film, and included nothing spectacular or out of the ordinary. We are able to believe the story all the more for that.
With a believable story and strong dialogue, Coppola presents a very humanistic approach to relationship, friendship and love. The societal lines of acceptable behavior are introduced in a muddy state that is more common than not, and the story begins and ends within that same place. Coppola never draws a line of clarity, and therein lays the strength of this film. This is not a story about right or wrong, morality or ethics. Lost in Translation is about the human search for connection and meaning, and like the human search, never offers a concrete answer.
A film that lingers on the edges of your mind for days, Lost in Translation is an introspective journey that might leave you questioning your place in the world as well as the lens through which you view both the world and yourself.