Sofia Coppola's wonderful follow-up to "Virgin Suicides" has her managing to not only skip over the dreaded "sophmore slump", but create one of 2003's finest films. The story of two people who connect in the middle of a hotel in Tokyo, "Translation" stars Scarlett Johansson as Charlotte, a recent college graduate who spends most of her time in Tokyo alone while her photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi) is there on business. Bob (Bill Murray) is an internationally-known actor who is headed down the other side of the mountain when it comes to his career, in town to film commericials for whiskey.
The two find themselves lost in a country where few people speak the language. She doesn't know where she's headed and what she wants to do, tearfully telling a friend back home that she witnessed a religious ceremony at a famed local temple and "felt nothing". He's dismayed that he's being told to be "more mysterious" by the photographer for a Whiskey ad ("More mysterious? I'll just think, 'Where's the Whiskey?'") instead of performing somewhere. His wife, still at home, is faxing him and Fedexing him carpet samples for him to choose from.
Out of their rooms at night in a hotel that seems like a small city unto itself, Bob and Charlotte find themselves together more and more often, as the two kindred spirits walk out into the night to try to kind amusement away from their respective significant others. Their connection is never sexual, although their are subtle, momentary glances of potential romance that soon flicker out. Their connection is more a shared time and escape, providing reassurance to each other that their clouds of dissatisfaction with their lives may soon break.
The film's success is not only due to the performances, but the writing/dialogue. Coppola's screenplay displays some wonderfully subtle interactions between characters, side-steps just about every cliche in the genre, and also, offers Murray a few wonderfully dry jokes that he delivers in perfect throw-away style. The scene where Bob and Charlotte discuss their "prison break" out of the hotel is a highlight, with Murray's "Hope you've had a lot to drink, this'll take courage" being one of the film's best lines. Of course, Murray's brilliant karaoke version of "More Than This" is still one of the best scenes in ages.
The performances are also some of the year's best. Murray combines his usual skilled comedic timing with a hint of sadness. Along with his excellent performances in Wes Anderson's films, the underrated Murray is finally getting roles that show his range. Scarlett Johansson (who has gotten extraordinarily sexy as she's gotten older) also offers an understated, very enjoyable performance that shows a lot of feeling through subtle glances. Moreover, the two have a really great chemistry with one another that works for exactly the kind of situation the film's plot is trying for. Ribisi isn't around much as Charlotte's husband, but Anna Faris ("Scary Movie") is quite funny, showing her wide-eyed style of comedy as a B-movie actress (supposedly based upon Cameron Diaz) that's a friend of Ribisi's character.
VIDEO: "Lost in Translation" is presented by Universal in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Other than the issue of a fairly noticable amount of grain and/or noise in the opening moments, the presentation looks generally good. Sharpness and detail aren't terrific, but that's how the film appeared theatrically, as the lighting is fairly low-key throughout many of the interior scenes in the film. What bugged me, I suppose, was that I remember the theatrical presentation looking a bit more detailed and showing off the subtle tones of the lighting a bit better.
There were a few more concerns at hand, as well. Compression artifacts were visible in a handful of the darker scenes, while a couple of specks were spotted. No edge enhancement was seen, though. The film's vivid color palette - especially in the Tokyo night scenes - was nicely presented, appearing well-saturated and vibrant. Overall, this was a pretty good transfer, but I think it falls short of greatness.
SOUND: "Lost in Translation" is presented in Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1. The fact that this is almost an entirely dialogue-driven film wouldn't seem to make the DTS option too necessary on this release, but the DTS audio really did offer somewhat of an improvement. This is a very subtle soundtrack that only uses the surrounds occasionally for some minor ambience or slight reinforcement of the music. Dialogue seemed a bit cleaner and more forward on the DTS track, and the DTS presentation also brought out a few of the minor ambient sounds that seemed lost on the Dolby edition.
EXTRAS: Let me also note here that one must sit through nearly six minutes of forced advertisements before the main menu starts. Although I've not noted this in other recent reviews of Universal titles, this practice is getting annoying and 6 minutes worth of ads is ridiculous (one can't go to the menu, only fast forward).
There aren't too many supplements included on the DVD. Murray and Coppola provide a 9-minute interview about the making of the film on a rooftop somewhere in Rome. Their discussion is good-natured and involving, shining some light on character choices and some of the struggles of trying to shoot on a ridiculously tight schedule in a city of 20 million people who don't speak the same language.
The best part of the supplemental section is a nearly 30-minute "making of" documentary that simply follows the cast and crew around during their day-to-day tasks. There's some priceless moments of Murray clowning around throughout the documentary, but mostly, this takes us through the problems that the crew faced during shooting (a typhoon, being thrown out of a restaurant) and shows some behind-the-scenes discussions about structuring certain scenes. The documentary is somewhat on the uneventful side, but I like these "non-promotional" pieces and there's certainly some entertaining moments.
5 Deleted scenes (mostly scene extensions), a music video, the film's theatrical trailer and the "Matthew's Best TV" clip.
Final Thoughts: One of the best films of 2003 and a beautiful, involving tale, "Lost in Translation" is lead by two Oscar-worthy performances. Universal's DVD edition provides a few okay extras and just good audio/video quality, but this is still a film well-worth getting. Highly recommended.
The Film ****