For me, Lost in Translation is as much a film as it is a mood. You’re never really whisked off your feet. You’re never really transported to a magical place. You don’t experience sweaty palms in a tense car chase. You’re kind of never really doing anything in this film. Instead, you flow with it and it hypnotises you as you share the same feeling of weightlessness and limbo that the characters do – lost in the beautiful cityscape of early 00’s Tokyo with no one to tell you which direction to go.
Written and directed by Sofia Coppola, Lost in Translation follows a washed up actor, Bob (Bill Murray), and recently married philosophy graduate, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson). Bob is in Tokyo for work, modelling for Suntory Whisky and runs into Charlotte, who just happens to be tagging along with her photographer husband, in the prestigious but perhaps uncomfortably attentive Park Hyatt Hotel. During a conversation at the hotel bar, the two share a connection as they both loll in a feeling of loss and jetlag as neither knows why or what they are doing at that moment. Charlotte is at a loss of what she wants to do in her life and questions the decisions she has to make to progress, and Bob is at a loss of where he is in his career and questions the decisions he’s made that has left him where he is. The two characters, while having lived different lives, are mirrors of each other at different points in time and as the film progresses, we see how one reflects on to the other.
I love this film. It fills me with giddiness, longing, and a sense of belonging which is ironic given the films plot. The setting takes me back to childhood memories of living in Asia and I can’t help but giggle watching Bob and Charlotte stumble through the culture shock of a country so romanticized in western culture. But you don’t have to have lived in Asia like I have to understand what these two are feeling. Just think of a time you went on holiday and you were overwhelmed by how different the way of life was. For a lot of people it may just be visiting family members in the countryside having grown up a city kid, or vice versa.
I think Coppola’s decision to set the picture in Japan is a perfect fit for the underlying theme of this film: searching for purpose, meaning, and acceptance. Lets take the film’s name quite literally for a second: “lost in translation”. While filming his Suntory ad, Bob gets visibly frustrated by the stage directions given to him as his translator is not doing her job properly and is clearly omitting vital information barked by the director. Bob knows that there is more meaning behind the words he’s hearing, but nobody can tell him.
Let’s put you in his position for a moment. Those who can read Japanese, you’re disquialified, sorry. Now, for those of you who dont, say this word out loud: 空.
Having trouble? Okay, what if I told you that the definition of 空 is “sky”. Now, say 空 out loud.
The point I’m trying to make here and the point that I feel the film is trying to tell the audience is that just because you can see the signs and you understand what they’re trying to tell you, doesn’t mean you can do anything about them. And that’s okay. We watch as Bob and Charlotte enjoy each other’s companionship in a foreign land and accept each other the way they are in that moment. They gradually forget the past and look forward to the future. They learn to appreciate what they have now before it’s gone. Perhaps that’s a perspective that so many of us might have lost given the state of the world.
The film also reminds us to appreciate the little things in life. Lost in Translation isn’t just a wet tissue of melancholy but is interspersed with genuine fun. Don’t tell me you didn’t feel a little bit of FOMO watching Bob and Charlotte sing drunken karaoke surrounded by new friends. Don’t deny that you didn’t crack an empathetic smile watching Bob try and hold a conversation with an elderly Japanese man while onlookers giggle at the situation.
Lost in Translation is a mood. What that mood is could depend on how you feel watching Charlotte and Bob’s budding friendship. Maybe it’s how you relate to being in the same limbo as they are. Perhaps it’s how you feel about being trapped at home. I highly recommend you watch this film, cause it’ll stick with you and when you come back to it, you’ll feel a different way each time.
Words by Josh Campbell