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Lost In Translation-20 Years Later

source: IMDb

20 years ago Sophia Coppola wrote and directed the film Lost In Translation, a film that stars Bill Murray and a very young Scarlett Johanson (pre-Marvel days). Up until 2023, I had never seen the movie. It was one that I always heard about, always was slightly interested in seeing, but never got around to watching. In fact, watching it was somewhat of a mistake. I have a membership to the Gateway Film Center (an independent theater in Columbus, Ohio) and for 15 bucks a month, I get unlimited movies and free popcorn with every visit. I came home from work exhausted and ready for my weekend. I started wondering what movies are at the Gateway, I noticed they were playing Lost In Translation and I figured “sure I’ll check it out.” The movie and the experience blew me away, and I feel like the movie’s relevance and impact still hold up today.

When I arrived at the theater it felt like I was in a different time period. For starters, there was a line to get tickets. Yes, a line to buy movie tickets. A line to buy tickets to an indie drama has been unheard of for years now. A line where you wait ten-plus minutes just to see a work of art projected on the screen. Usually, theater lines get crowded to see a superhero movie in the modern day, but this was a long line to see a slow drama. This gave me hope, thinking maybe there is a reason I’d heard about this movie.

This movie was the only one about to start at 7 pm, so the majority of people in line were buying the tickets for this movie. The theater they screened the movie was packed with audience members of all ages.

So before I get any deeper into the experience of the movie, I want to explain what this is about. The movie came out in 2003 and takes place during the same time frame. We follow Bob Harris (Bill Murray) who is a lonely aged actor spending the week in Tokyo, Japan filming Japanese Whiskey commercials. While spending time at the hotel bar, Bob stumbles upon Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) who has recently married a celebrity photographer (Giovanni Ribisi) and is with him in Tokyo while he works on his current assignments throughout Asia. Despite being in a city filled with millions, and having lives that seem rewarding and fulfilling, these two people feel very lost and disconnected from the world. They form a friendship in hopes to find meaning and connection in an unfamiliar place.

source: Robert Ebert

I’ve always admired Bill Murray’s range and variety of projects he’s done throughout his career. Does he play a lot of similar characters in his movies? Typically yes. He usually plays a grouchy guy who goes through a chaotic turn of events and turns out to be a better person in the end. Groundhog Day was always my favorite Bill Murray performance because of the variety he brings to his character of Phil in that movie. However, in Lost In Translation Bill Murray is extremely at home and comfortable in every scene. The sparks of drama he adds in some of his comedies are in full force from start to finish in this movie. He never feels like a caricature or a stereotypical depressed artist, he feels very grounded and human. Johansson is also very impressive in this movie. There is not a ton of dialogue in the movie since Coppola focuses more on showing not telling in this movie. The non-verbal communication and gestures displayed by Johansson and Murray are excellent in conveying the emotional depth of both characters. Their chemistry is surprisingly great as well, both bounce off of each other so well that it’s mesmerizing. Both are very different people, yet express the same types of emotions about their lives with one another so openly and honestly. Since the film focuses on at least one of them in every shot, they both have a lot of weight on their shoulders in conveying why we need to care about them. By the midpoint of the movie, you are connected to both of them and care for them so much that when the film begins to conclude like you don’t want to depart the characters. Both performances are great in essence, I understand why Murray got the Oscar nomination, but I do feel like Johansson was snubbed for an Oscar nomination here.

Loneliness and being lost in life are huge themes in Lost In Translation. However, unlike other films such as The Wrestler or The Descendants that explore characters who are lonely and lost, Lost In Translation focuses on the beauty of hope in the world around you. The way Coppola captures Tokyo is unlike anything you’ll ever see. The movie is an immersive experience. The sequence in which Bob and Charlotte are partying in Tokyo is shot so well, you feel like you are with them along for the ride. Even in the opening shot, when Bob is entering Tokyo, it feels surreal. You feel connected to the characters and it allows the audience to better relate to them and their current situations. The scope of the movie feels grand and small at the same time. The paradox of this movie is that it takes place in Tokyo with millions of people and a beautiful atmosphere of buildings and highways suggesting large populations. However, despite this atmosphere, the characters still feel isolated and confused by this different world. The movie is also shot on film with only a 4 million dollar budget, so it feels small in the scope of production and control. Yet, it is a grand place for the story to take place and it is equally exciting to see what will happen next with each scene.

source: IMDb

As you probably know by now, I love this movie. It is funny, happy, sad, and thought-provoking. It’s relevant today, because in a time of phones and social media, despite all the people around us, the stresses of everyday life can make us feel alone. The world feels so foreign with the quick advances of technology and also adjusting to a post-covid world. The title suggests two things, first being lost in translation means since they are in a foreign country they are lost when it comes to the culture or the languages of the country. It also means they are lost as people when it comes to communicating their ideas about life to those they know and love. In the movie, this occurs with Charlotte and her husband, and with Bob and his wife. Most of the messages are also given to the characters through fax machines. Much like today, lots of people are terrible at expressing their honest feelings to those they love and those they know. This is probably a result of the huge changes that have occurred in our culture over the past few years. The movie is a reflection on those who are lost internally just as much as those who are lost externally. It’s a beautiful movie, that yes is somewhat slow on first viewing, but besides the pace at times, it’s a relevant and impactful movie you won’t forget soon after watching.


  • Danny Callaghan

    Danny Callaghan is a Kent State graduate with a degree in Communication Studies and a minor in Digital Media Production. He is the creator and host of the podcast “Callaghan’s Corner” which you can find wherever you get your podcasts!

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