Because platonic relationships deserve attention, too
In 2003, one of the finest films of the decade was released: Lost In Translation. This was no fast paced blockbuster; there was no CGI or outlandish sex scenes involved. It was no fairy tale romance either. It’s a movie that doesn’t carry the usual implausible escapism that Hollywood movies often do. It’s a film about sincere human connections and platonic relationships, about lonely, fragile strangers finding each other in a foreign, remote land. It is hardly formulaic, rather consistently melancholic, but bewitching from beginning to end—a testament to director Sofia Coppola’s vision, and is authoritative evidence of her talent as a filmmaker and writer. It’s a far cry from the product of nepotism we can so indolently categorize her as.
Washed up, jaded movie star Bob Harris (Bill Murray, who the role was written for according to Coppola) is in Tokyo to shoot a lucrative commercial for a whiskey brand. Between shoots, he meets an intellectual but neglected Yale-graduate, Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), at the sleek hotel bar of Tokyo’s famous Park Hyatt (now a tourist spot thanks almost solely to this film).
Charlotte feels like somewhat of an after-thought of her hotshot photographer husband (Giovanni Ribisi), who himself is in Tokyo shooting various celebrities. Bob and Charlotte find solace, distraction and understanding amidst a beautifully alien Tokyo backdrop. Bob is in a tedious marriage; Charlotte is neglected; both existentially in crisis. The jetlagged duo forms an unlikely, ambiguously platonic relationship as they meaningful bond while gallivanting throughout the ethereal, wacky megalopolis that is Tokyo. Despite the latter being one of the world’s most populous cities, there is an underlying irony that the film delves into themes like loneliness and isolation.
This movie may have powerfully tender and desolate undertones, but make no mistake about this: it is consistently comedic. We have glimpses of vintage Bill Murray, the comedy god of the 1980s, in various hilarious, now legitimately iconic scenes that have endured throughout a generation. Think “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time!” while Bob tries to embody Roger Moore’s 007 as requested by the temperamental, non-English speaking, Japanese director of the Suntory whiskey commercial. Meanwhile, Scarlett Johansson, who was barely old enough to drink when this was filmed, in her portrayal of Charlotte, displays incredible poise and communicates a wisdom far beyond her early 20s. Under Coppola’s direction and tutelage, their chemistry is explosively palpable. In the bittersweet end, they tearfully part ways as Bob flies back to America, their bond deep but still refreshingly platonic.
Lost in Translation is now practically two decades old, but watch it again and it feels far from outdated, unlike most commercial films of the era. The cinematography, the dialogue, the sheer style of the film, feels decidedly current. The Shinjuku crosswalk still very much feels like, well, the Shinjuku crosswalk of today. You might watch a film you deeply enjoyed as a youth, and it now feels aged and archaic; the general aesthetic and the writing filled with clichés mostly relevant to the time of production. This is not an uncommon phenomenon. Perhaps the ultimate indication of art’s (be it film, music, writing and everything that makes it) inherent value is whether it is able to stand the test of time. Lost in Translation very much achieves the latter, not only because of Coppola’s script or the cast’s chemistry or its eclectic and hip soundtrack but because of its empathy: prior to meeting, Charlotte and Bob both find themselves in very human, relatable scenarios but aren’t always brimming with glee–and that’s okay.
Words Art Vandelay
Art Matthew Fetalver