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For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.

photo caption:
SHARING A MEAL: Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson find each other in Tokyo in "Lost in Translation."end caption.nd of caption


"Lost in Translation": Man in Mid-Life Crisis Meets a Neglected Wife

Review by Kam Williams

I suppose Bill Murray is still thought of as that Saturday Night Live wiseguy with a smarmy nonchalance whose blasé brand of comedy proved to be as charming on the big screen as it was on television. The pockmarked comic's enduring career has been marked by way too many hits to recall, with Caddyshack, Stripes, Tootsie, Ghostbusters, Ghostbusters II, and Groundhog Day figuring most prominently.

In recent years, Murray's work in such movies as Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums has been tempered by an emotional depth which has led to the sort of critical acclaim ordinarily reserved for only the most accomplished actors. And now, after Lost in Translation, he might finally land the Oscar nomination which has eluded him for so long.

This tender character study was written and directed by Sofia Coppola (The Virgin Suicides), daughter of the legendary Francis Ford Coppola (The Godfather trilogy). Many cinemaphiles say that she single-handedly ruined Godfather III, when she stepped in as a last-minute replacement for Winona Ryder in the role of Mary Corleone. But it now seems that Sofia has found her calling behind the camera, following in her father's footsteps.

Lost in Translation is a mood piece, set against the backdrop of the frenetic pace of present-day Tokyo, where Bob Harris (Murray), an over-the-hill Hollywood star, has just arrived to make TV and print ads for Santori whiskey. Apparently, the aging idol couldn't afford to turn down the endorsement's $2 million paycheck; and besides, he could use a break from a 25-year marriage which has long since lost its luster.

A good sport, Bob mindlessly obliges the fussy blur of the doting entourage which has mapped out his every daytime move during the week of his stay. But the language barrier prevents him from having any meaningful interactions with any of his hosts, even the kinky masseuse someone sent to his hotel room as a present to help him unwind. Alone at night, he finds himself plagued by an insomnia which has him frequenting the piano bar downstairs, which is where he engages the equally depressed and sleep-deprived Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), cradling a drink of her own.

Though considerably younger, and still practically a newlywed, Charlotte bonds with the morose middle-aged man, since they share the similar sentiment of being stuck in a soulless marriage. She has already become a virtual albatross around the neck of her annoyed photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi), who'd rather shower his attention on the self-absorbed starlet (Anna Faris) he's in town to take pictures of.

So, Bob and Charlotte forge a fast friendship, more out of a sense of desperation than out of anything carnal. Yet magic happens for this pair of malcontents as they turn Tokyo into a personal playland, although we sense that they'd both really rather be anywhere else. Alternately laugh-out-loud silly and profoundly moving, kudos to Coppola for managing to capture an undeniable chemistry between Murray and his 18 year-old co-star, despite a certain asexuality. Praise is also in order for Ms. Johansson, whose considerable talent first caught my eye three years ago, as the irreverent Rebecca in Ghost World, the comic book adaptation which ended up number one on my Ten Best List for 2000. Lost in Translation is a masterpiece likely to be under consideration for this year's list.

Not to be missed.
Excellent. Rated R with female frontal nudity, sexuality and profanity.

end of review.

For more movie summaries, see Kam's Kapsules.


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