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Strangers in a strange land

Wren Wertin
AP photoBill Murray and Scarlett Johansson star in director Sofia Coppola's "Lost in Translation." Murray plays a cynical actor, and Johansson is a recent college graduate. Their lonely, insomniac characters cross paths in a Tokyo hotel. The movie is Coppola's second feature film.
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It’s not just a movie – it’s a journey. Sofia Coppola, writer and director of “Lost in Translation,” starring Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson, has bashed all preconceived notions of the sophomore slumps. Her second film couldn’t be improved upon – not the script, not the cinematography, not the actors.

Murray is Bob Harris, a cynical actor in Tokyo, earning $2 million for endorsing Suntory whiskey. Johansson is Charlotte, a recent Yale grad staying in the same hotel as Bob with her celebrity photographer husband. Despite the myriad of people surrounding these two, they are both quite solitary. They often meet throughout the hotel on their nighttime wanderings, in the throes of a shared insomnia.

Tokyo is all bright colors and noises. The constant sensory overload induces an acute dislocation, juxtaposed with Charlotte’s occasional forays into Buddhist temples, serene in their muted colors and chants. Tokyo becomes their shared dream.



There’s an element of the ambiguous about the couple, reminiscent of “The Graduate” and “Roman Holiday.” Coppola spins the scenes out like a top, letting them rattle into corners and bump into the furniture. What doesn’t happen is as important as what does. A night on the town leads them to a karaoke bar, where Murray turns in a smoldering performance covering Elvis Costello’s “What’s So Funny ‘Bout Peace, Love and Understanding.” Sushi bars, hospitals and crowded streets fade into the background as these two lost souls walk through the world together for a moment in time. It’s hypnotic.

Despite such lyrical sentiment and the easygoing pace, the film is quirkily funny. There’s hope behind Bob’s stoic resignation and Charlotte’s bewildered sense of place – and there’s humor. I found myself laughing out loud often.



This is perhaps Murray’s best performance to date. Once known for his ability to ad lib his way out of a paper sack, Murray’s Bob has pathos, in spades. Johansson, with her subtle voice and aloof vulnerability, is the perfect foil. Together, they’re an unbeatable team in an unbeatable movie.

“Lost in Translation” is playing in Vail at Cascade Village Theater. Call 476-5661 for showtimes.

Wren Wertin can be reached via e-mail at wrenw@vaildaily.com or phone at 949-0555, ext. 618.


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