SAVE YOURSELF from “Lost in Translation”

5 09 2010

Plenty of people will tell you to run to “Lost in Translation;” I, however, am not telling you to walk. I’m telling you to run in the other direction and SAVE YOURSELF!

Now, by all means, if you want to spend an hour and a half of your valuable time watching an excruciatingly subtle movie that shows not the slightest bit of emotion, this could be your movie. Some people take pleasure in seeing movies like this because they, in some form or fashion, feel like they have power because the filmmaker has let them fill in the emotional blanks. I like movies that show people living their lives, no matter how dismal or boring that may be. Sofia Coppola gives us in this movie a portrait of two people who might as well be dead because they show such few signs of life.

It’s a 90-minute movie that feels like 90 hours in moviewatching hell – or, as Coppola sees it, Japan. We get to see plenty of a much younger Scarlett Johansson (here in her breakout role), but if you want to go ScarJo watching, there are plenty of magazines and websites for that. In “Lost in Translation,” Coppola gives us these ten minute asides of Johansson visiting various tourist locations looking perplexed and bored to tears. I’ll give her that she really communicates the later of the two emotions to the audience, as our impatient American mind yells, “GET ON WITH IT! SEE THE DARNED SIGHTS AND GET THE PLOT MOVING!”

The movie drags on following two bored souls in Japan, the photographer’s wife left to stew in her own juices played by Johansson and a burnt-out alcoholic actor played admirably by Bill Murray.  I won’t pretend like Murray deserved a Razzie for his work here because it wasn’t awful.  But in terms of the kind of performances the Oscars have rewarded and nominated in the past decade, this just falls short of expectations.  In essence, it’s Murray playing the same character we’ve laughed at for two decades, only now we are supposed to pity him because this funny guy has suddenly turned vapid.

The two strike up friendship unexpectedly and begin to converse on occasion.  Talking makes up only about a third of the movie, however.  Coppola left me wondering how on earth I’m expected to buy their relationship, but more importantly, why I should care an iota.  I’ve been more invested in the characters that populate corny romantic comedies than this, something that should not be able to describe any Best Picture nominee.  The counteracting of my argument is that Coppola is using the European technique of letting the dialogue provide the mood and the emotions to tell the story.  I have no problem with this, but “Lost in Translation” is so frigidly distant that I felt there was never an opportunity to make any sort of connection to it.

By the time the movie wrapped up, I could have cared less about how to interpret the open-ended conclusion. It’s as painfully reserved and wistfully distant as the shy kid in middle school.  All politeness aside, that’s NOT the person I want to spend my valuable time with.  The Coppola last name is the stuff of legends, and it’s a shame that Sofia can just tote it around because she was born with it, not because she truly earned it.

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26 responses

6 09 2010
Katie

I agree with EVERYTHING you say.

The very first “movies not to see” post I wrote was about this tedious piece of crap. ( http://storiesthatreallymattered.wordpress.com/2009/01/19/movies-not-to-see-before-you-die/ )

People often yell at me about hating this film, telling me I don’t understand the subtlety and trying to make me feel like I’m missing something. Here’s what I think: nobody actually likes this movie. Not even the goons who nominated it for an Oscar. The only clever thing about this movie is that it was marketed as an intellectual insight into the human condition, so everyone (except you and me) is terrified to admit that actually its just plain crap, at risk of looking dumb. It’s Emperor’s New Clothes syndrome at it’s very best. Well, call me the village idiot, but this movie sucks.

I want my 90 minutes back Copolla.

25 07 2014
Tom

Nobody actually likes this movie? Um, count me in as one who absolutely adores this movie.

6 09 2010
Will Silver

I agree with you, it’s boring and a lot less interesting than everyone seems to think it is. I watched it twice trying to see if I would like it more a second time, but I liked it the same, which wasn’t much. The cinematography is at least nice to look at it for the most part.

6 09 2010
CMrok93

I respect your opinion my friend, although I did like this film, just be ready to get a lot of heat from other bloggers.

6 09 2010
Castor

Completely agree with you Marshall, so understated it’s painful. If walking around like a zombie gets you a career in Hollywood, sign me right now!

6 09 2010
Whiffer

See? Just because Roger Ebert included it on his Great Movies list doesn’t mean it’s good. Many very “important” movies (Breathless, Metroplis, 8 1/2, The Birth of a Nation) SUCK. This one, however, appears to be neither. It sounds like one of those movies where you sit and wait for something to happen and wait and wait and the movie’s over.

6 09 2010
Red

I will respectfully disagree as well. While the movie is certainly slow, I thought how Coppola let the audience make up the emotions of the characters worked very well, and one of the very few times that ScarJo displayed actual acting talent. While they are people in positions that I would never be in, they felt very relatable, and kept me intriuged as to how things would develop. It’s not a movie that I expect everybody to love, slow movies tend to do that, but certain movies like this one require patience by both the director and audience.

6 09 2010
Red

Not sure why it put my respone there…But since it did, I will go ahead and say that I absolutely disagree on 8 1/2 and Metroplis. Both laid great foundations for what film is today.

6 09 2010
Jennifer

This is really the first time blatantly disagree with you Marshall. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion but like CMrok93 said, I think you will be receiving a lot of heat from other bloggers.

6 09 2010
Marshall

The “Save Yourself” series is fairly new, but it’s meant to highlight bad movies that everyone else thinks are good. The posts are meant to rile some cages and get some good discussion going. Nothing seems to get people more up in arms than having one of their favorite movies ripped to shreds. If someone said “SAVE YOURSELF from American Beauty,” I would unleash a tirade … in good spirits, of course.

6 09 2010
James D.

It just perplexes me how you can hate a masterpiece like Lost in Translation and throw accolades at a trainwreck like The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus. Different strokes, I guess.

6 09 2010
Marshall

I have no problem with disagreement; I just want to know WHAT you like about this movie and WHY you like it.

7 09 2010
Fitz

I can see why you wouldn’t like it. The films dawdles in places where quicker cuts would have sufficed, but the saving grace of the film for me is Murray.

9 09 2010
Dan

Yes, yes, yes…always thought this was an over-hyped piece of crap. I can’t stand anything Sofia Coppola has done.

10 09 2010
Andrew

I guess I’m not sure what’s really intended by this post. In the first place, being contrary toward popular opinion of a work of art while being dismissive of the artist on incredibly superficial grounds reads as being a highly disingenuous way of generating discussion. It’s inciting rather than insightful. A totally different or new interpretation of the movie would have been much more potent.

The real problem with this read is that Lost in Translation wouldn’t work as any other kind of film. If it didn’t play with its cards close to its chest, it would be a complete disaster with no sense of harmony. Why would a movie about two people dissatisfied with the lives through which they seem to be sleepwalking feel close? Or warm? Frigid and distant might be used pejoratively here but such terms are completely accurate and in being so are totally complimentary to how the film should feel. Bob’s career has sagged to such a point that being the face of Suntory’s whiskey ad campaign can be considered good work, and his marriage is eroding. Charlotte feels alienated from her husband, who actively ignores her in favor of work. Both of them are total outsiders in the country they’re visiting. In short, a movie about alienation gains nothing from exuding a sense of warmth and proximity; such an atmosphere would be completely incongruous with the circumstances of the protagonists.

I also don’t see what’s hard to believe about their relationship. Charlotte and Bob are kindred spirits even if they come from totally different places; even ignoring that they’re two Americans pretty much on their own in a totally foreign place. It seems natural that they’d latch onto one another, though admittedly Bob’s celebrity affords him preferential treatment by many and could be viewed as being a very inviting reason to make friends with him in the first place.

12 09 2010
Marshall

“Superficial grounds?” More people who commented here seem to agree with me, so you’re insulting a whole lot of bloggers out there.

And it would work as a film had it been accessible to people beyond your burnt-out world travelers. I’m sorry I’m not washed up or unhappy, but I don’t understand why you have to BE the characters in a movie to understand their struggles.

Their relationship is hard to believe because they share a drink and a cigarette, and before we know it, they are running around Tokyo being miserable together, staring into space with blank, bored looks. Sorry if I have some faith in humanity that no matter how depressed we get, we won’t lose our senses.

15 09 2010
Andrew

Superficial grounds as in, “it’s a shame that Sofia can just tote [the Coppola name] around because she was born with it, not because she truly earned it”. If anyone’s insulted that I consider dismissal of Coppola’s work in context with her heritage to be superficial, then, well, they should be. Certainly being a Coppola mustn’t hurt one’s chances of getting films made, but there’s much more to her career and her art than being Francis’ daughter.

And if I should be concerned about insulting a whole lot of bloggers on the grounds that they agree with you, shouldn’t you also be concerned about insulting people who liked this movie because they don’t?

“And it would work as a film had it been accessible to people beyond your burnt-out world travelers. I’m sorry I’m not washed up or unhappy, but I don’t understand why you have to BE the characters in a movie to understand their struggles.”

I don’t think any reasonable school of critical theory suggests that audiences have to be able to directly identify with characters in order to find them sympathetic or even human– and aside from that I’m pointing out that the divide between the audience and the characters works in context with the nature and spirit of the film. I mean, I am neither in an unhappy marriage nor a washed-up actor scraping the bottom of the barrel to exploit my own career and image, but the more general idea of being directionless in life speaks to me because even if I haven’t been in their specific situations, I’ve certainly felt a degree of the existential angst they seem to be juggling. And stripping away the details that make up the story and the characters, that’s what Lost in Translation is about.

“Their relationship is hard to believe because they share a drink and a cigarette, and before we know it, they are running around Tokyo being miserable together, staring into space with blank, bored looks. Sorry if I have some faith in humanity that no matter how depressed we get, we won’t lose our senses.”

But they don’t run around Tokyo miserable together. They actually end up having a lot of fun with each other, from mocking the style of cuisine common in Japan or singing in a karaoke bar with a bunch of friends and strangers. I still don’t see what’s so hard to buy about two people striking up a conversation in a bar discovering that they have a bit in common and hanging out together, especially when both of them are suffering from feelings of alienation and loneliness. It’s not like their relationship is even that abrupt that the first meeting ends with the two of them at that same karaoke bar.

15 09 2010
Marshall

I’m not dismissing it BECAUSE she is a Coppola or saying that it is terrible for that reason. What I’m saying is that other less well-known filmmakers making better movies are really the ones that deserve that extra layer of prestige, not the people that are born into it. I don’t hold her heritage against her by any means. But if you had the choice of financing some poor indie director who has made a few promising shorts and Martin Scorsese’s son, wouldn’t you pick Scorsese’s son?

I only warned you about insulting other bloggers because calling us superficial is a little below the belt. I didn’t take a jab at the group of people who do happen to like this movie. Nowhere in this review can you find me calling out the movie’s fans as “stupid” or “crazy” – not even “superficial.”

I’ve felt plenty of existential angst, and I guess I’m really only disappointed in this movie because I felt like it has been done better and in a way that can speak to everyone.

While they may not be miserable the entire time, they have their angst-ridden moments that annoyed the heck out of me. It’s not necessarily that it felt far-fetched, but I just thought it came off as a little forced and not wholly natural.

12 09 2010
Katie

You tell him Marshall!

6 09 2012
alleyandthemovies

I have tried to watch this film many times, and the farthest I’ve gotten is 50 minutes in. It’s too sensitive, too reflective, and overwhelmingly placid and bland. Your review expressed everything I’ve felt about this crappy movie.

10 12 2012
Guadrho

You were kind. This movie is just horrid! Period. People leaving outside the theatre were asking “What the hell was that?” Not subtle…dismal

29 06 2013
Lost One

I can agree to disagree. What I don’t like, is how Katie said “Here’s what I think: nobody actually likes this movie.” That’s just pure ignorance to me. But since this whole entry was supposedly written so you could find out why people love Lost In Translation, I’ll give my 5 cents on it.

Now keep your pants on, but I actually put LiT in my Top 5 movies of all time. It’s the movie I’ve rewatched the most out of all movies I’ve seen. I’ve been kind of surprised by that myself. What I think draws me back time and time again, is the fact that you don’t have to “forget the plot or the ending” in order to enjoy it again. The mood and the ambiance of the movie is the whole movie.

Firstly, I’m a fan of beautiful cinematography, which LiT is full of. But most of all, I’m a fan of movies that resonate with me. I’ve never been to Japan, I’ve never been married, and I’ve never been a 50-something movie hack. Still, Bob and Charlotte seem like old friends to me every time I watch the film, and I can relate to what they’re going through.

This hard-to-describe feeling of being disconnected and without direction is very well portrayed in the film. The setting could be anywhere, as alienation can happen even in your home country. The fact that the movie is set in Tokyo just underlines how alone these characters are at the moment. They are both quiet people who don’t bother others with their problems. That’s what makes it all so fantastic, because in each other, they find an outlet for their misplaced feelings of love and warmth. In a million years I wouldn’t call this movie cold or distant. The fact that these characters slowly build a platonic romance and open up to each other, makes this one of the most heartwarming movies I’ve seen.

On the other hand, I can see how some people think of it as dull and/or boring. It doesn’t make you stupid or me pretentious. It makes us different people with different experiences, and therefore we relate to different things. To each his own, but to me, this might even be my favorite movie of all time as it brings me comfort, eye-candy and a warm feeling of hope.

ps. Sorry for the long post 🙂

25 07 2014
Tom

“I like movies that show people living their lives, no matter how dismal or boring that may be. . .”

I’m confused. Did you say you did or did not like this movie? because this thought right here completely sums up Lost in Translation.

25 07 2014
Marshall

I felt like they were more sleepwalking than living.

I will say, my opinion of Sofia Coppola has risen some since writing this about 4 years ago. But my feelings on this movie remain more or less unchanged: it’s a pretentious snooze that left me cold and unengaged.

25 07 2014
Tom

And that’s fair man, as they should. No one should force you to think differently, just cuz you’re opinion contrasts from others. I just thought that was kind of backtracking in that comment, but I do that a lot in my own reviews hahaha.

U can check those out at digitalshortbread.com, if you’d like, btw. I have a review of Lost in Translation over there if you’d wanna take a look at it

25 07 2014
Marshall

Haha. As you can see, the comments got heated. People love this movie, and they also despise it. I always think it’s an interesting litmus test to see what people think of polarizing films like this.

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