Unlike the slightly suburban-mystical mood of Virgin Suicides, Sophia Coppola’s Lost in Translation (IMDB)provides a striking shot at realism, toned by the semi-magical landscape of Japan, sculpted both in technology and nature, globalization and tradition.

Good friend (and former Misc. guest speaker on Buffy) “L” called the film “uncomfortably real.” Elaborating, she said:

“there is a texture to some of those scenes, like the one in the sushi restaurant, [and] the one when the first talk at the bar, that feel like the actors aren’t aware they’re being filmed… like you’re eavesdropping and you shouldn’t be”

Sound plays a pivotal role in Lost in Translation. The obvious complexities of language – in the mixture and confusions of Japanese and English, both written and spoken – are combined with the less obvious sounds of culture and city – ranging from the karaoke bar, to the chants and drums of a temple, to the silence of a contemplative moment, punctuated by horns and arcades, or wind and footsteps. Those scenes are crucial for the overall tone of the film. The abrupt contrast of karaoke vs. the music in the temple shows how sound can both penetrate and numb you at the same time.

Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are superb, with a subtle attention to dialogue that struck me as honest, with mumbles, long pauses, and uncertainties proving that a tightly woven script can – and maybe must – account for the uncertain, stumbling offerings of oral speech. The moments where language is most scripted prove that streams of chatter and forceful language amounts to little substance – perhaps best represented by the “movie star” character, Kelly (played by Anna Faris), who is in Japan to promote her new action movie.

All of this is played off of long stretches of silence or near-silence. Quiet moments where the camera takes long looks at the landscape, a synchronic exploration of exterior and interior, paced by a character’s unspoken thoughts. Silence and quiet is often a bold move in film – at least since it was an option – and Coppola makes wonderful use of it throughout, mixing in subtle rhythms to complete – or complicate – the mood. The ending – which I’ll not ruin for those who haven’t seen it – is unique for its deliberate obscurity.

This is not a happy film, in any imagination. But it is a beautiful one.


4 Responses to Lost in Translation

  1. Marc says:

    I haven’t seen this film yet– I hear its quite good– but I do have the soundtrack by Kevin Shields, late of My Bloody Valentine. Interesting that you’d categorize moments in the film as “uncomfortably real” as that was one of the phrases used in describing MBV years ago. Strange, ethereal guitar noise stretched to its limits by various technologies yet all the while sounding somehow more real than “organic” guitar. It’ll be interesting to hear how that translates to film.

  2. Jason says:

    Interesting Marc… sounds like I need to revisit some MBV.

  3. Kate says:

    I think the actors are superb… but truly speaking I expected a little bit more from the movie itself. I’d say it’s quite unnatural or something like that.

  4. Paul says:

    Coppola has produced a film which is terrorfyingly realistic for those of us who have experienced a similar romantic situation in the real world…

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