‘Lost in Translation’ (2003) Film Review

April 25, 2023

In a world which is more than foreign, Bob Harris played by Bill Murray engulfs himself in the idiosyncratic culture of the Japanese which has been percolating the Earth for centuries. It is in the resignation of being lost on an island for a time and a season which opens the idea of being found. And to think it takes a newly graduated coed to make him sparkle.


He is a character who is handsomely rewarded for sitting still and drinking whiskey, all as a reward for being an actor for a career. He does not know what his place in the universe is – this is painstakingly revealed as he meanders, if not floats, through this foreign world, like an alien who has landed in a place where he is revered. But he is past the point of faux gratification. He is at the point of his life where responsibility beckons, yet he is too staid about changing his ease.


Meanwhile, Charlotte played by Scarlett Johansson is a newlywed and newly graduate lost at the same place and time. Her photographer husband has her not so much prisoned but idling in their hotel room while he is on assignment. The two bored together end up colliding at the hotel bar, where it becomes its own amusement every night to explore, not so much Japan, or Tokyo, but themselves and the passage of their souls.


It is an interesting contrast, with a chasm in age of more than three decades. There is a sense of tutelage, however brief, that Mr. Harris imparts on the young and naïve girl, as her life is practically beginning. The joy of the film is in this comradery, of a careless attitude toward enjoying a brave new world and its almost “wacky” electronics with themselves. To treat their isolation where only Japanese is spoken as a form of solace in the aimless aiming which brought themselves into each other’s lives as beautifully significant is a real treat. That despite the seemingly rude attitude the actor has towards the “help” – his handlers who chaperone him to and fro his well-paid theatrics – there is deep down a sincerity which the innocent girl brings out of him. He really is trying to be a good person instead of a self-absorbed entertainer.


Perhaps it is in this sincere effort, if just for a week, which helps inform him, no, inspire him, to move better with his own family at home. And it is here at this nexus of the mundane and the exquisite which is the crux of the issue. That the specialness of vain appearances has long worn off, and he is simply smitten by someone who actually cares, and that caring person is not his wife with her painful errands list he is unromantically reminded of nightly.


That sense of freedom is introduced into the film, of a man who is now ladled with two children, but who does sincerely feel sparked at the end of the film in his wishful goodbye to a young woman who may have changed his life forever. That added kick of innocent youth can shatter the corrupted molding of so much vanity and dishonesty a Hollywood actor experiences. And all that was required was an unexpected greeting by someone who does not care about the psychic image, about how he is perceived by millions of others, but who he is in the same room as her. That it leads to karaoke is all well. Indeed, this is the objective of life: to play.


Why so serious then? Is it that creeping mortal fate which bears a lachrymose lip-turn not upward towards beatific thought, but downward towards the forlornness of being sunken in the ground for good? It is all dispersed the moment someone new to the scene, new to the world, enters the stage, with a youthful optimism that carries people onward and upward.


That this is precious and that it is cherished so self-evidently in the focus of Japanese lifestyle toward game-making – as we are kindly reminded of the origination of Dance Dance Revolution, for instance – is the remark of a kind and generous people. A people which desire healthy happiness with loved ones. It is the extension of that love unto others which is always the rub. Will it last? Will it be? Such doubts no doubt creep into both of their minds, to nonetheless grant them the appreciation of the existing present, which they effortlessly master.


Lost in Translation is a universal message on appreciating simple pleasures. All it takes is the effort to make someone smile.


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