This lovely movie from 2003 has been called a romantic comedy, but it is both sad and funny. It’s about alienation and loneliness, about being lost – in society, in the work place, in relationships and personally.
Bob Harris (Bill Murray), a famous American movie star whose career is on a bit of a decline, is in Tokyo to shoot a whiskey commercial. His wife of 25 years is back home with the children. Staying in the same luxury hotel is Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a recent Yale graduate and philosophy major who has accompanied her husband, a photographer, to Japan. While he works, she has plenty of time to think about the state of their two-year-old marriage and her frustration about not knowing what she really wants to do with her life. Both characters are lost in their lives. They drift through Toky, a city to which they have no key, the oddness of the culture just underlining their estrangement. After crossing paths repeatedly in their hotel, Charlotte and Bob finally talk in the hotel bar one evening, which leads to their joint explorations of the city. At one point, she asks him: “I’m stuck. Does it get easier?” He responds “Yes, it gets easier” and then adds, “The more you know what you want, the less things upset you.” In truth they are both stuck in their lives. The film is unusual because they never develop a physical relationship, but they do achieve something more – a deep communication, a heartfelt empatthy and a mutual understanding.
The movie was directed by Sofia Coppola who devised the idea of Lost in Translation after many visits to Tokyo in her twenties, basing much of the story on her experiences there. She wrote the film with Bill Murray in mind and said she would not have made it without him. She said that she had always wanted to work with Murray and that she was attracted to his “sweet, lovable side”. She pursued him for five months to a year, relentlessly sending telephone messages and letters. Coppola and Murray finally met in a restaurant, and he agreed to participate because he “couldn’t let her down”. When he arrived in Tokyo he still hadn’t signed the contract, but he did the film and maybe the best performance in his career.
This video shows Bob’s and Charlotte’s first meeting in the hotel bar.