Lost in Translation (2003)

Lost in Translation (2003)
  • Time: 104 min
  • Genre: Drama
  • Director: Sofia Coppola
  • Cast: Bill Murray, Scarlett Johansson, Anna Faris


Bob Harris is an American film actor, far past his prime. He visits Tokyo to appear in commercials, and he meets Charlotte, the young wife of a visiting photographer. Bored and weary, Bob and Charlotte make ideal if improbable traveling companions. Charlotte is looking for “her place in life,” and Bob is tolerating a mediocre stateside marriage. Both separately and together, they live the experience of the American in Tokyo. Bob and Charlotte suffer both confusion and hilarity due to the cultural and language differences between themselves and the Japanese. As the relationship between Bob and Charlotte deepens, they come to the realization that their visits to Japan, and one another, must soon end. Or must they?


  • Lost in Translation is a bittersweet movie that examines the inherent loneliness of life, even in seemingly happy marriages. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson star as two strangers from different walks of life who venture around Tokyo together, discussing their respective marriages and questioning the concept of happiness.

    Murray has never been better as Bob Harris, a fading American movie star who is increasingly dissatisfied with his life. He arrives in Tokyo to shoot a Suntory whiskey commercial. All the while, his wife nags him about not being home, urgently faxing fabric samples to him in the middle of the night. Scarlett Johansson plays Charlotte, a neglected young wife who has no clear direction in life. She questions her marriage and is unable to find anyone that understands her, basically ignored by her friend when she confesses over the phone, “I don’t know who I married.”

    Throughout the movie, we get the sense that Bob could be hilarious if he wanted to. But most of the time, he is too worn out for that. Murray’s performance is perfectly restrained, and he owns this character that is so unlike anything else he has played in movies. The few moments his humor shines through are great, such as shooting a whiskey commercial with the non-English speaking director. “You want more mysterious? I’ll just try and think, ‘Where the hell’s the whiskey?'” he says as he struggles to work with the director through his translator.

    Long, eloquent conversations are not present in the world of these two lost souls. They speak in short sentences, but each word carries so much weight that it draws us into their thoughts. The unexpected bond between the characters defies Hollywood expectations by remaining completely non-sexual. The connection they share runs deeper than any physical attraction.

    Coppola ends the movie in an ambiguous but hopeful way. An inaudible whispered conversation is all we are left with, and all we should be left with. Whether it was a phone number Bob or “let’s meet here again in 6 months,” Coppola leaves that up to the viewer’s sensibilities. Fill in the blank with how optimistic you are as a person.

  • “I just don’t know what I’m supposed to be.”

    In her sophomore smash hit, Sofia Coppola introduces us to a familiar world within the realms of loneliness and isolation.

    Lost in Translation revolves around Bob Harris (Bill Murray) who’s experiencing a mid-life crisis in Tokyo while filming a commercial advertising a whiskey for $2 million when he “could be doing a play”. Bob encounters philosophy college graduate Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) who’s undergoing her own psychological breakdown while her fashion photographer husband is noticeably absent while working on location. Bob and Charlotte are two people at opposite ends of life with a comparable connection, and the two form one of the most unique bonds between two individuals struggling with various components of being lost. While Charlotte is grappling with the 20s crisis of ‘what am I doing with my life?’, Bob is struggling with the same complex issues from an older perspective. The two share a rare camaraderie that is seldom accomplished well on screen without feeling complicated, unnatural or creepy.

    Lost in Translation received critical acclaim in 2003 and was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actor for Bill Murray, and Best Director for Sofia Coppola; Coppola won for Best Original Screenplay. Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson each won a BAFTA award for Best Actor in a Leading Role and Best Actress in a Leading Role respectively. The film was also a commercial success, grossing $119 million from a budget of only $4 million.

    This is a film I explored early in college, and I couldn’t get into it. I consider this a blind spot movie for me, because I re-watched it for the first time in a decade and fell completely in love with the characters, ambiance, cinematography and storyline. It’s a story and message that transcends time and resonates greatly with anyone who’s ever felt alone or isolated, which is something I’ve struggled with significantly in my late 20s like Charlotte.

    One of my favorite aspects of the film is the cinematography and the fine work of director of photography Lance Acord. There are many shots in shadows and dimly lit locations that visually represent and convey isolation. Tokyo is constantly lit and booming with color, while the main characters are more concealed in the shadows symbolizing their loneliness and detachment from the outside world.

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