This is the second feature filmwritten and directed by Sofia Coppola—who is just 32 years old—and, like her first (2000's The Virgin Suicides), it possesses a maturity and wisdom well beyond her years. All the more remarkable is that Lost in Translation is an original screenplay (whereas The Virgin Suicides had Jeffrey Eugenides' fine novel as a source), informed by Coppola's own time spent in Japan, when she was even younger than she is now. Perhaps because of that experience, of living amid a foreign culture at a particularly impressionable moment, Coppola (in superb collaboration with cinematographer Lance Acord, who has also shot the films of Coppola's husband, Spike Jonze) sees Japan not as some exotic Hollywood backdrop, but as an ever-shifting, organic mass of salient details unfamiliar to the Western eye. On a subtextual level, of course, Tokyo is for Coppola what England was for E.M. Forster or what Italy was for Antonioni: an expanse of disconnect. But in the resplendent, naturally lit images of Lost in Translation, the city becomes a rainbow-colored maze of too-small bathrooms, psychedelic TV talk shows, and video-game arcades where the games are played with drumsticks instead of joysticks. And, in the telling, Coppola's sophomore effort becomes one of the greatest, most sensual films I can recall on the subject of strangers navigating their way through a strange land.
Lost in Translation is fraught with a deep sadness and sense of yearning. Yet, it is also an enormously—at times, even uproariously—comedic film, not because it feels any obligation to be "funny" in some contrived, screenwriterly sort of way, but because Coppola has set out to make a movie set to the rhythms of real (rather than reel) life, in which there are no genres. She has cast an ostensible funnyman, Bill Murray, in a role some might consider (even after Rushmore) to be a stretch, and he has responded with a performance of emotional nakedness and humility, fully aware that this part (not unlike Bob's brief encounter with Charlotte) isn't just the best he's ever had, but better than most actors ever get. Then there is Johansson, closer in age (18) to Coppola herself and capturing, in her own weary wistfulness, the simultaneous fear of new, untapped experience, and the desire for same, that are the key forces motivating this entire film. Coppola's point being that you don't necessarily have to be middle-aged to feel a kind of middle-aged craziness, to look out at the great void of all that is yet to come and shudder a bit, with both trepidation and the urge to leap. Maybe those of us who do just that, she seems to be saying, are, in fact, the lucky—if not necessarily the happy—few. Lost In Translation was written and directed by Sofia Coppola; produced by Coppola and Ross Katz; and stars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. Now playing at Edwards University, Irvine; Mann Rancho Niguel, Laguna Niguel; and Edwards Long Beach.