I saw Coppola Jr.’s films in totally the wrong order. First, Marie Antoinette, the biopic about the titular Queen of France, famed for her extravagance and hedonistic lifestyle. The film polarized critics; some argued it was style over substance. The film featured gorgeous people eating gorgeous food and generally being rich, whilst managing to look eternally bored (In my opinion, what’s not to like?). Jokes aside (if I may call that a joke) the film was beautifully shot; the pastel colours, the costumes, the film was truly a feast for the senses, which some critics argued was a fault. The loss of my Coppola-ginity was a thoroughly enjoyable experience, and I was left eager to see more. Next I saw her debut, The Virgin Suicides, which saw four Catholic-raised sisters battling teenage angst in the 70’s, who in the end... I don’t want to spoil it. Work it out. The film was quietly brilliant, with silence and mood reigning, the sisters’ yearning for freedom made tangible through subtle glances and awkward silences. Colour, again, was a main factor, the seventies in suburbia being depicted through wispy yellows and oranges. Anyway, enough pretense, the film was great. So my second Coppola experience was even better than the first, and I considered myself a fully formed Coppolite. But, I now only realise, it was all a build up to the stellar Lost in Translation.
Lost in Translation sees two Americans, Charlotte and Bob, stuck in Tokyo. Charlotte is the bored wife of an ambitious photographer in Tokyo working. Bob is a seemingly accomplished actor who’s career is on the blink, in Tokyo to shoot a whisky advert. There is the one main motif throughout the film - boredom. The characters are bored. Charlotte (played by an excellent Scarlett Johansson) is in Tokyo because of her husband. She has no job. She is seen lazing around her hotel room, at one point crying to her friend because she hates the trip so much. Bob (again, played excellently by Bill Murray) is on his own, getting paid two million dollars for an advert, even though it is hinted that he doesn’t need the money. He’s bored. He receives a phone call from his wife asking about what colour should the carpet be in their new study. Pretty exciting. This film captures the zeitgeist of our time as much as Mad Men does of the fifties - and what is the zeitgeist of our time? Nothing. Nothing is exciting. Bob is getting payed two million dollars for an advert, which isn’t exactly stimulating or fulfilling. The characters aren’t doing or achieving anything. This boredom is highlighted by Coppola’s suppressed use of colour in the hotel, as well as (fantastic) shots of the concrete jungle that is Tokyo.
By the way I have described the film so far, it doesn’t exactly sound fun. But, plain and simply, the film is laugh out loud funny, moments of hilarity really giving Murray a chance to shine. There is a particularly funny scene in which a “masseuse” (wink wink) is sent to Bob’s room, telling him to “lip her stockings”, really adhering to the title of Lost in Translation. The film is also extremely sardonic, again a reflection of our time. Whilst walking through the hotel with her husband, Charlotte meets the embarrassingly stupid Kelly, an actress in Japan promoting her latest film under the stage name of “Evelyn Wah”. After forced small talk and lots of oh my god’s between her husband and Kelly (Charlotte looking on, a wry smile on her face), they arrange to meet for dinner in the hotel restaurant, another painfully funny scene. Kelly tells Charlotte’s husband of her father’s anorexia, in all seriousness, which had me laughing at not only the stupidity of the content, but Charlotte’s difficult suppression of laughter. It’s easy to see why this won the Oscar for best original screenplay. This film is all the great things about Coppola’s previous films amalgamated into one superfilm. It has style: Charlotte’s relaxed attitude and cynicism exude cool. The sweeping shots of Tokyo are breathtaking, as well as the subdued colours being very effective in capturing the sense of mundane. But crucially, it has substance. The film will be hilariously funny, then through Bob and Charlotte’s chemistry will tug at your heartstrings.
It is this chemistry which really makes the film. You really empathise with Bob and Charlotte, want the best for them. You may even want them to get together. Through their insomnia, they meet in the early hours of the morning in the hotel bar, and through their feeling of being lost, alone, they strike up an unlikely friendship. Contrasting to the title, Lost in Translation is about communication, the bond that forms between the two characters. There is one moment which we realise their friendship - Bob is singing Roxy Music’s “More Than This” on a karaoke machine. Glancing back to Charlotte, their eyes meet, with an electric chemistry that is rarely seen on screen. This summarises their relationship - Bob sings “there’s got to be more than this”. And that is what the film’s about. Two strangers, alone in a Japanese hotel, as cheesy as it sounds, trying to find themselves. This feeling that there has to be more than this. I am doing this film an injustice by making it sound clichéd. When I think about it, this story probably would be cheesy in any other film. But the films acerbic wit, and again amazing performances, which makes the film feel anything but. The film is carried along by a ridiculously good soundtrack, “Young Love” by “Phoenix” being my particular favourite. But there’s also Peaches. And Roxy Music. This film has everything.
Surprisingly, this is a feel good film. It’s funny, heart-wrenching, with brilliant performances and a great soundtrack; all you could ask of a film. See it. Please.