At the same time in that very same high-rise Tokyo hotel, a young woman named Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) teeters precariously on her own precipice. Perched on the windowsill, she stares out at what seems to be the very edge of the world. Disillusioned as only recent collge graduates can be, she’s tagging along with her hubby (Giovanni Ribisi), who’s in Japan to photograph the whirlwind life of a rock band on tour. It’s a daunting task, and he’s often busy, and so Charlotte sits alone in her room or at the hotel bar, contemplating why she seems to be tiptoeing around her life instead of diving into it head and heart first.
Suffering no visible sophomore jinx qualms whatsoever, Sofia Coppola’s second feature details the touching but distinctly odd friendship that grows between Bob and Charlotte. As with her breathtaking first film, “The Virgin Suicides,” Coppola imbues “Lost in Translation” with a dreamy quality that laps quietly at the shoreline of our senses, making us see and feel her characters on a visceral and visual level. Adding her artist’s eye for scenic composition to the stunning work of cinematographer Lance Acord, the movie has an unmistakable glow — whether it’s bathing Bob in the soft gray light of despair or the candy-colored neon of forced fun.
Coppola also captures perfectly that odd, drowning sensation that comes with arriving in a strange new land. By not subtitling all of the Japanese conversations ebbing and flowing around Bob and Charlotte, Coppola forces us to share her characters’ feelings of disorientation. Although Charlotte is really the emotional second-banana to Murray’s outstanding Bob, Johansson doesn’t act that way. Her Charlotte is both stereotypical youth and somehow agelessly wise.
It takes only a few scenes for viewers to know that Coppola has penned the role of a lifetime for Murray, one that’s not only uniquely suited to his style of deadpan disenchantment, but also magically makes his character embraceable. As if recognizing the rare gift he’s been given, Murray turns in a beautifully controlled performance. Nowhere is that more evident than when he looks at Johansson, his face expressing such sweetness and regret it almost breaks your heart.
First a love story, albeit an uniquely odd one, “Lost in Translation” explores the fragile, inexplicable moment that transforms an acquaintance into friendship — and how in something as slight as a whisper or as fleeting as a shared glance, two very different people discover that they are not alone in this world after all. Coppola’s second feature film is a droll delight about being lost and then found. ****1/2 S
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