Page 1 of 3 123 LastLast
Results 1 to 15 of 43

Thread: Lost in limbo

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    13,498

    Lost in limbo

    He’s a fading movie star in town to shoot a whisky ad and she’s a young rock star photographer’s wife along on a busy assignment. They’re both in the Tokyo Hyatt Regency, bored and lonely and with nothing to do, out of sync with where they are and drifting away from their marriages. (They also don’t seem to have brought along anything interesting to read.) They meet and have a little wistful, unconsummated affair. He leaves, and on the way out they have a few goodbye kisses. Now you know the plot of Lost in Translation. But it's not about the plot.

    Sofia Coppola has chosen to make a movie about states of limbo. She’s also made a movie about Bill Murray’s face, which oscillates ceaselessly between serious and comic, famous and forgotten, sexy and numbed-out. Most of the action happens on that face or in the engulfing shadows of the big dark hotel. The sequence where Murray as Bob Harris poses for alternate takes of the Suntory ad, with tiny alterations in his weary eyes and bored voice, is a quietly hilarious tour de force that speaks volumes about repression and anger.

    A clip from La Dolce Vita reminds us of the jaded wanderers in Sixties Italian art films that Pauline Kael called “Sick Soul of Europe Movies," for which Sofia may share a nostaligia with her famous father, though Sofia is as restrained in her response to their Italian heritage as her father was flamboyant. Anyway this is 21st century American art. Compare Murray’s face with Mastroianni’s and you'll see how far this movie is from La dolce vita or La notte. The whole “sick soul” thing isn’t philosophical or romantic any more; it hasn’t even got much soul. Sofia has taken Sixties loss of will into the default mode.

    We may be in Japan, but this isn’t Antonioni meets Kurosawa; it's Antonioni meets Joan Didion. The movie has flown across time zones to Tokyo dragging a hefty dose of California anomie with it.

    There are plenty of exotic images but the cinematography is pretty rather than sexy and conveys a sense of trapped airlessness. Every scenic “escape” from the Hyatt to the brightness of a party, a pachinko hall, a karaoke stage, a shrine, a TV show is illusory: Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) and Bob always wind up back in their sterile rooms with their sealed off city view panoramas and their jet lag. The images rarely breathe. (They're not meant to. This is what being stuck in a big hotel is like.) Once in a while the camera selects cute Japanese guys talking at a party or playing weird video games or something. But this isn't Japan, it's limbo. The reminders of California are constant in Bob’s phone calls home to his busy indifferent wife. It’s even embedded in their circadian rhythms. Days pass, but they’re still on California time. The sense of imprisonment in a great airless hotel is horrible and real. The Regency is a metaphor for Bob's and Charlotte's suspended state.

    Japan lends itself to a comedy that is funny at the risk of condescension. The “Japanese Johnny Carson” who has Bob on his show is a repellant little nelly clown. The director of the Suntory ads Bob has come to do for $2 million is a caricature too, a small, noisy, ineffectual man. (Bob is rigorously and sardonically polite with him.) Ditto the courtesan who comes to Bob’s room and says “Lick my stockings,” or “Rip my stockings”: the absurd, unsexy scene makes her seem remote and ridiculous. It's a bit unfortunate that there is nothing so attractive to Bob in this whole huge city as this one white woman he has met at the bar.

    The doubts about their marriages are there, but not to become motives for adultery. Bob instead more or less by desperate accident has a night with the chanteuse from the café upstairs, and that’s it.

    Bob doesn’t have enough energy to commit a serious infidelity. It’s his spouse who has the position of strength in the marriage: she has her life and the kids and doesn’t need him. She's just a voice, the busy wife and mom at the end of the phone, and she becomes a bit of a caricature, like some of the Japanese.

    The movement of the film is droll, but numb. Lost in Translation is a stylish, sophisticated, witty piece of work. It’s appropriately jaded and worldly-wise for a thirty-two-year-old director with a remarkable pedigree. But it's also somewhat lacking in courage because in exchange for all the polish her work has here, Sofia Coppola has paid the rather heavy price of not taking emotiional chances. Nonetheless it’s a very accomplished and by no means unmemorable film.

    Murray’s performance is, in its way, an absolute gem, perfectly modulated and, for a comic, almost thrillingly, shockingly recessive. He has spoken in public about his respect for the director and he shows it in his selfless performance. It’s sharply focused, as his Polonius recitation in Michael Almareyda’s Hamlet wasn’t, but he never grandstands. Murray is good, damned good, but not the presence than Mastroianni was. Mastroianni could be pretty vacuous at times, but he won your heart with his charm and sadness. One can almost believe in Murray’s Bob Harris, and one can’t help liking him, but one can’t be moved by him.

    There are many good details, but the overall structure isn't the best part of the movie. The final scene with Charlotte when Bob leaves his airport limo to find her in a crowded Tokyo street and exchange a real kiss seems a bit pushed. It’s emotionally necessary to give the movie a conventional tinge of sentiment, but is this gesture quite believable, or even possible, in that crowd and in that traffic? Coppola is such an ironist and a realist that we’re not conditioned by the movie to suspend disbelief as we would if Nora Ephron were at the helm. (It’s both pushed and too easy, that last kiss.)

    Funnily – typical of Ms. Coppola’s style which is both unobtrusive and unexpected, Charlotte cries only at the beginning.

    What would have been nice is if Bob had cried at the end.

    Sofia Coppola already showed with The Virgin Suicides that she could work on a mature almost cult-like offbeat level. She maintains, but doesn’t go beyond that here. Lost in Translation deserves attention and praise for its originality, its restraint, and for Murray’s and Johansson's modulated performances. But it’s rather slight, and not as funny as some people think. Actually, it’s pretty sad. Suicide was more fun.

    http://www.chrisknipp.com
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 09-25-2003 at 12:57 PM.

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Sep 2002
    Posts
    47
    "The final scene with Charlotte when Bob leaves his airport limo to find her in a crowded Tokyo street and exchange a real kiss seems a bit pushed. It’s emotionally necessary to give the movie a conventional tinge of sentiment, but is this gesture quite believable, or even possible, in that crowd and in that traffic?"

    A bit pushed? I think the ending is one of the most simplistic endings I've ever seen. You say pushed but do you mean rushed? Why is it emotionally necessary for "Lost in Translation" to give sentiment?

    "Coppola is such an ironist and a realist that we’re not conditioned by the movie to suspend disbelief as we would if Nora Ephron were at the helm. (It’s both pushed and too easy, that last kiss.)"

    Too easy? Both Bill Murray and Scarlett Johanson (spelling?) are in love with each other. They're in love in the way where it's perfectly natural for one to kiss the other, even as both of them are trying to stick to their marriages and at least hope there is some happiness in life. Both of these characters are in the same situations. They love each other but because they're married, they're smart not to have sex, not to say I love you the instant they see each other and especially not demanding anything out of each other.

    "But it’s rather slight, and not as funny as some people think. Actually, it’s pretty sad. Suicide was more fun."

    I don't find "Lost in Translation" a sad movie at all. I find it a movie filled with hope. The ending is not in the slightest way manipulative. I didn't feel depressed at the ending because I believe it shows that life moves on. Sad movies, if you mean ones that make you depressed, don't over hope.

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Utah, USA
    Posts
    1,638

    Chris Knipp Finds The Lost in Limbo

    Mr. Knipp has discover with clarity and path into the limbo of this movie with his commentary critical review of "Lost in Translation." My Japanese American wife put it well when she said that the female translator really lost her clarity in translating Japanese into English for poor Bill Murray while shooting the wine commercial. The director's directions were literally lost in translation and as the whole movie of cultural and time changes suggest, the whole movie becomes one big lost in limbo experience. I agree that something was lost in the movie that makes this movie not the definitive travelogue/drama - the challenges of a strong emotional, compelling drama were left out and we are left with more of the surface experiences of real sights and sounds of life of a tourist in Japan who has time to spend in the more pedestrian parts of the city instead of the camera sight-seeing points of interest.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    13,498
    This is a good point: that Lost in Translation doesn't even really get to the translation, let alone show how meanings are lost. That's why I used the word "limbo." You can't really very well encounter a culture from inside a huge impersonal modern hotel. The Japanese setting is hardly more than window dressing in the film, and this is only one way that "the challenges...were left out." The film is about being in a numbed state, and it leaves us numb.

    http://www.chrisknipp.com

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2002
    Location
    New York
    Posts
    444

    Just Lost

    I must say I think this may be one of the most questionable films in recent memory. Apart from a high production value and a great Bill Murray this seems to me to be a really empty piece of work. Kind of an extended music video with a laundry list of "cool" paraded before us as if Sofia's own findings. Coppola lifts shots from Rushmore, fetishizes feminine beauty and gawks at the mysteries of asian culture. Perhaps most interesting to me is the celebratory critical response the film is getting. One critic friend of mine suggested that this is a particularly self-satsifying film for middle aged male critics. The notion that there may be a breast inflated 19 year old out there waiting to soul search with them makes it "great, a classic". Oh well. I thought it was flimsy at best. Coppola is enormously popular in Japan, but I imagine no amount of built-in cultural deference can withstand the depths of this one's thoughtlessness.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    13,498
    You may be right, pmw: at least this could be turning out to be a leader of the Most Overrated category for this year, as I felt About Schmidt, The Hours, Far from Heaven (which you loved) and The Road to Perdition were last year. Those look pretty interesting compared to Lost in Translation.

    This may be in part a generational thing, as you suggest. You may be particularly hard on Coppola because she is closer to your generation, and you expect better. I don't know about the older man fantasy value in the story but one young friend said the thought of Bill Murray with Scarlett Johanssen was repulsive.

    Your reaction seems a bit overboard against, but is valuable as a corrective since not only the critics but most people I know here in the Bay Area can see no wrong in this movie, which I agree is really pretty empty. However I don't want to be so hard on Sofia precisely because she's young; I loved Virgin Suicides (I thought it was charming and precocious) and I hope she'll return to giving that kind of pleasure next time.

    Critics seem to have lemming tendencies, don't they? I was very impressed by Mystic River, but aren't the critics just going a little overboard on it, given that it does have flaws? Is there some kind of peer pressure here, when the New Yorker and the New York Times both publish raves?

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Utah, USA
    Posts
    1,638

    Drama Empty, Style Excellent

    What this movie does well is style and form but lacks in depth and real internal dialogue. The feeling and the sensation of Japan from an outsider perspective, the slice of life of touring in Japan was amazing and excellent. The avoidance of the normal boy meets girl scenario was also apt and different. Yet never in all these experiential sights and sounds does the audience really get the inner experiences and the existentialist message or meaning of the movie. As I mentioned elsewhere, this movie was a perfect travelogue without a well edited script but is that what the audience paid good movie to see?

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    4,674

    SENSEI SOFIA

    Although Chris Knipp states "Lost in Translation is a stylish, sophisticated, witty piece of work" and calls Murray's performance "an absolute gem", most replies above are negative. I was surprised.

    Bob and Charlotte are complex, richly defined characters. There's a lot of shading to the characterizations by Ms. Johansson and Mr. Murray. Ms. Coppola's script and unobtrusive direction allow the performers the necessary room to mold and create from the inside out. The arc of their brief meaningful relationship is drawn realistically, starting with raised eyebrows over a horrid rendition of "Scarborough Fair". Small gestures and lyrics pregnant with meaning. Is Charlotte's karaoke choice of "Brass in Pocket" a come-on, a neglected wife's plea for attention, or both? Roxy Music's "More Than This" is Bob's acknowlegment of both the deep human connection they develop and its evanescence. But what does he whisper in Charlotte's ear when they part? Ms. Coppola gives freedom to the actors and freedom to the viewer to interpret, to fill in the blank corners. It's all there in the faces of Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray.

    So for me, Lost in Transalation is primarily about a relationship between two likable human beings; one in which age is of minimal import. (The only comment above that rattled me is pmw's critic friend explaining away positive critical response as mere fantasy fullfilment for middle-age men.) The film sidesteps the usual cliches to show the odd pair realistically finding solace, support and joy in being together. A certain amount of sexual tension builds up, but their mutual respect, even gallantry towards each other, wins out.

    The film provides some material dealing with the effects of environment on behavior, cross-cultural dislocation, the limitations of communication technology,etc. But that's the icing. Lost in Translation is about what happened to Bob and Charlotte when they met at the Tokyo Hyatt.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    13,498
    I'm glad you quoted my favorable comments. I never meant to say it's a bad movie. It's an interesting one. Sofia Coppola is original and already accomplished. I think I have tended to emphasize the negative about Lost in Translation since writing my original assessment to counter excessive praise in reviews and personal reactions from people I know. Around here, it's de rigeur to love it. No one will hear of reservations. That may be why there's a negative spin on comments about the movie here. The prevailing opinion determines what we say. Likewise with Mystic River, it has gotten such raves from the critics that you have to say wait, this movie has flaws. There's other good stuff out there, or at least let's hope so.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Utah, USA
    Posts
    1,638

    An Excellent Travelogue

    If this movie's audience had been directed towards tourists or business people who didn't have an clear cut agenda in going to Japan or for people who wanted a slice of "real" life as an outsider or for people interested on non-drama of the relationship of two people in a strange country than this is the perfect movie.

    This movie has no real drama, no real message...it's more intriguing sensations, experiences, and submerged emotions without any real scriptwriter's need for resolutions to problems. Perhaps this movie would be described as a semi-documentary using real actors to reveal to us what non-actors experience but couldn't really portray (because of all the intrusive camera work involved) in a society that is so different as to require passing solace together in this fascinating but incomprehendible society.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Utah, USA
    Posts
    1,638

    The Inscrutability of Lost in Translation

    On a whim, I took my Japanese American mother to see Lost In Translation earlier today, meaning that I had the opportunity to see this movie for the second time. I came away surprised that I enjoyed the movie more the second time, more so than I did the first viewing. As with Japanese simplicity, the is an inscrutable depth and complexity to even the most plain perceptions and so to with Lost In Translation, the feelings, and sensations, the emotions, the feelings that exude from the sights and sounds, the music and the acting provide more material for thought and experience rather than mundane and boring. Apparently, there is more to this movie than first glance and the subtlety of the relationship aspect found in this movie is more than skin deep and represents a rather poignant reflection of a slice of more of real life depicted on the screen than the average audience is used to seeing.

  12. #12
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    13,498

    Have you completely changed your mind?

    My Japanese American wife put it well when she said that the female translator really lost her clarity in translating Japanese into English for poor Bill Murray while shooting the wine commercial. The director's directions were literally lost in translation and as the whole movie of cultural and time changes suggest, the whole movie becomes one big lost in limbo experience. I agree that something was lost in the movie that makes this movie not the definitive travelogue/drama - the challenges of a strong emotional, compelling drama were left out and we are left with more of the surface experiences of real sights and sounds of life of a tourist in Japan who has time to spend in the more pedestrian parts of the city instead of the camera sight-seeing points of interest.
    Have you rejected this response completely, or just modified it?

  13. #13
    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Utah, USA
    Posts
    1,638

    Something Under the Surface

    Even though I wasn't really excited about going to see the movie again (I wanted more to impress my mother since she had been to Japan a number of times), I did go and watched it for the second time. When I managed to sit through this movie and not be bored or when the movie didn't even feel slow or tedious, I have to suspect that something more is going on than a superficial travelogue. I read my mother laughing a number of times as well as a number of other members of the audience which felt like there was material that I just wasn't aware of (particularly the Japanese).

    The elements of the "strong emotional, compelling drama" that I previously said had been left out were folded and tucked into the quiet behaviors and the subtle emotions implicitly and indirectly layered into the movie (so Japanese-like). What is not evident at first glance, particularly when it comes to Japan is that what really counts is not what is obvious or what is done or said, but what is left out and not said or done (much like Japanese Noh-Dance or the importance of the blank/white portion of a painting that is not painted).

    I think that this movie can be seen on two very different levels: (1) - an American first blush experience which allows one to dismiss this movie; and (2) - a multicultural, less directed and expectation perspective which allows one to pick up finer nuances in the movie and appreciate the movie more.

    This is my inscrutable Japanese reply.

  14. #14
    Join Date
    Oct 2002
    Posts
    4,674
    I'm glad you gave it a second chance. I particularly like your comment "what really counts is what is left out and not said or done". This is what I mean when I said that Ms. Coppola frees the actors and the audience to fill-in the blank spaces (what's not made obvious and explicit). It's all there though in small gestures, song lyrics, voice inflections... The scant evidence(2 films) suggests Ms. Coppola is a major talent. I hope Mr. Murray gets nominated so the film gets publicity and perhaps a return to theatres.

  15. #15
    Join Date
    Jul 2002
    Location
    SF Bay Area
    Posts
    13,498
    I've gone on record as saying this is a fine film. However, for what it's worth, I have Japanese friends who saw it and didn't think much of it, and like me found the treatment of the Japanese dismissive.

    What is not evident at first glance, particularly when it comes to Japan, is that what really counts is not what is obvious or what is done or said, but what is left out and not said or done (much like Japanese Noh-Dance or the importance of the blank/white portion of a painting that is not painted).
    Interesting concept, but I think you're forgetting here that this is an American movie. Sofia Coppola is not a Japanese director. Give the movie a second chance; it deserves it. "Major director"? That remains to be seen. This is beginning to sound more and more like the Emperor's Clothes to me. Let's not give her too much credit for what is not there. Understated, sure. To a fault. Not a Japanese movie. We're not discussing Ozu here!

Page 1 of 3 123 LastLast

Bookmarks

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts
  •