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LOST IN TRANSLATION (article first published : 2004-02-13)

Choice, commitment, commercialism, loneliness, friendship and love lost and found are issues at the warm heart of Lost In Translation, Sofia Coppola's leisurely but captivating second film as director, following The Virgin Suicides.

The film, which stands to win Oscars for Coppola and for best film, has met with wide critical acclaim and its 19-year-old star, Scarlett Johansson, has earned herself a Golden Globe nomination for her fine performance. Seen before in the Coen brothers' The Man Who Wasn't There, Rob Reiner's North and Robert Redford's The Horse Whisperer, she is here cast as philosophy graduate Charlotte, who is bored stiff and constantly battling insomnia while in Tokyo.

She is in the neon-shocked city to accompany her husband of two years (Giovanni Ribisi), a photographer on assignment there - a man who seems to have more time for airhead models and actresses he works with than for his wife, who is left to mope in her hotel room while he goes about his business.

Fed up with not being able to sleep and feeling dislocated, discontent and disillusioned with the way her life is unfurling, Charlotte hits the hotel pub. There she meets and befriends fellow hotel guest Rob Harris (Bill Murray), a US screen actor whose star is waning and who is in Japan to make a quick $2million from a whiskey commercial.

Bob, too, is dissatisfied with the way life is unfolding - he's saddled in a wobbly marriage, galloping towards a mid-life crisis and is battling to get to grips with the customs and attitudes of the Japanese, who seem to speak up to five sentences which translate as only a word or two.

With their shared depression from common emotional and cultural backdrops, Charlotte and Bob hit it off immediately.

The firming of their bond of friendship, involving moments of high humour interspersed with delicate, poignant moments, in which the smallest of actions speak louder than any words, pulls the focus of Coppola's 102-minute film.

Johansson is a constant delight as a dazed and confused young woman anxious to anchor the meaning of life, but itís Murray who most glimmers here.

He has seldom been better and his comic spark - be it at a hotel gym, while watching telly, having a go at karaoke or being constantly befuddled by the Japanese - is a constant joy to watch.

The film scores as handsomely in its probing of angst, its spot-on observations of disintegrating relationships.

It may not be the masterpiece some have made it out to be, but Lost In Translation is certainly a film of note. It gets a rating of 8/10. - Billy Suter




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