If you aren't feeling very lonely right now, you very well may by the time you've finished reading this review. For it is the review of a movie that woos, romances and longs after loneliness. A movie that is capable of reaching down inside the most gregarious, convivial person in the world and drawing to the surface a kernel of desperate detachment.
Bob is an over-the-hill, middle-aged movie star who relies on his accumulated fame to keep him in the money through retirement. He's in Tokyo to earn $2 million for shooting a whiskey commercial. Charlotte is a young college graduate, recently married and tagging along with her photographer husband on a business trip. Both wind up at the Park Hyatt Tokyo, with lots of time on their hands and no one to share it with. After 25 years, Bob's marriage is shaky, suffering from his frequent absences. After two years, Charlotte's not sure who it is she married, or why. Both are tired. Bored. Lonely. And emotionally fragile. So when they meet, there's an instant connection. Age and social status (or even marital status, for that matter) seem irrelevant as the two cradle drinks at the hotel bar, share lunches, midnight parties and 4 a.m. heart-to-hearts.
Indirectly, Lost in Translation illustrates several valuable lessons, among them that marriage is a big commitment and it takes a lot of work to keep it on the straight and narrow. It also shows how fickle our hearts can be when emotions cloud clear thinking. (That can serve as a warning for us not to put ourselves in the way of temptation, though the film certainly doesn't try to explore that territory.) Bob doesn't spend much time with his kids, but he's still smitten with them, and seems to subconsciously wish things were different. [Spoiler Warning] Bob and Charlotte are certainly having an "affair of the mind" (and that is not to be taken lightly), but they don't consummate their passion and, ultimately, they don't leave their families to flounder. (Don't look for too many easy answers here, though. The movie's temperament is encapsulated in the following exchange between Bob and Charlotte: "I'm stuck," Charlotte says softly. "Does it get any easier?" Bob replies flatly, "No. Yes.")
At a press conference, a young movie star yammers on about how she loves Buddhism and that she thinks she was reincarnated. The movie also includes mumbo-jumbo about our souls picking our path through life before we are born. Charlotte visits Buddhist shrines.
Charlotte wears revealing panties in several shots (the movie opens with a lingering close-up of her backside). A "masseuse" arrives in Bob's room wearing a costume that reveals cleavage and a lot of leg, and seems intent on getting Bob to have sex with her. He's more annoyed by her than attracted to her, and does everything he can to get away from her. Later on, though, he beds the lounge singer from the bar downstairs (the act is implied by a scene showing him waking up the next morning). Bob and Charlotte go to a strip club (the room is dimly lit, but topless dancers can be seen and blaring music contains sexually explicit lyrics).
A rowdy scene at a nightclub ends with "shots" ringing out from a toy machine gun. At first you think the gun might be real, but it quickly becomes apparent it is not as all it does is emit flashes of light. A bottle is thrown. A lamp is broken. A man is stabbed on TV.
Crude or Profane Language
Two s-words and not many more milder profanities. God's name is misused a half-dozen times ("Oh my God," "Christ's sake").
Drug and Alcohol Content
It's Tokyo. People smoke. Cigarettes seem to grow off the ends of fingers in nearly every scene. Bob smokes a cigar. Charlotte smokes cigarettes. Both drink excessively, especially Bob. Several times he refers to hard liquor as a calming agent and the commercial he shoots for whiskey celebrates the substance even further.
Other Negative Elements
Bulimia and anorexia are discussed in a way that may seem trivial to those touched by the diseases.
Director Sophia Coppola (Francis Ford's daughter) draws on her own experiences in Tokyo to bring it to life. Bob and Charlotte's collective pensiveness and dislocation is backlit by the Japanese capital's freneticism. And the contrast is used to good effect. Racing elevated trains, throngs of pedestrians, flashing neon signs and the din of bad karaoke don't neutralize the angst, they accentuate and exacerbate it to the point that its nearly tangible.
Bill Murray has always had a melancholy streak. But he typically uses it as a foil for his humor. Here, he wears it on his sleeve, refusing to duck and cover behind mirth and frivolity. And in doing so he delivers the performance of a lifetime. His onscreen companion, Scarlett Johansson (The Man Who Wasn't There, The Horse Whisperer), easily keeps pace, allowing onlookers a riveting glimpse of the tragedy that occurs when youthful energy and enthusiasm crash into directionlessness and amorality.
If one refuses to give in to the movie's moodiness, it becomes merely a dim documentary of two individuals' plodding trips to Tokyo. They eat. They go for walks. They gaze out over the city from their generic hotel rooms. Indeed, eliminate emotion from the equation and Lost in Translation stops working in any language. But it's impossible to separate what's happening onscreen with what happens in your heart. And that is what has made this movie a critic's darling. It's also the pit it falls into while the crowds are obliviously cheering. Because of those strong emotions racing back and forth between projected image and human heart, moviegoers will find themselves relishing the connection and bond they see "innocently" forming between Bob and Charlotte. You're compelled to desire their happiness, and the only way they'll ever be happy, you become convinced, is for them to be together. Never mind that that would mean the destruction of two separate families. Sucked in to the moment, it's easy not to care.