The movie "Lost in translation" stars Bill Murray, Scarlet Johansson, and the city of Tokyo. Written & directed by Sofia Coppola, the movie places Bill Murray (as American movie star Bob Harris) in a ritzy Japanese hotel as he shoots an ad for Suntory, the Japanese Jack Daniels. This may be Murray’s best role ever, precisely because it allows him to be both funny and serious in a way his goofier movies, as much as I love them, never did. And I’ve mentioned Tokyo as a character because it appears to capture, especially at night, all of the worst, most garish, characteristics of any large American city. And it does them all one better. The neon lights are endless and stretch for 30 stories and more above the street, blotting out the night, and virtually screaming that life never slows down here for something as trivial as sleep.
Perhaps that’s why Murray has such trouble sleeping. So he drops by the hotel’s bar so often. It overlooks the bright city, and features music by an American group with a slightly over the hill American vocalist, trying hard to make the businessmen and tourists feel like they are getting a…slightly stale… slice of home.
It’s there he meets the young Charlotte (Scarlet Johansson), the American wife of an American photographer. He’s in Japan for a shoot and is off working most of the time. Murray is in his fifties, and shows it clearly on his face. She’s in her twenties, attractive though not glamorous, and it’s an innocent friendship between two people tossed together in a foreign land. Much of the humor here is subtle, as she tries to understand what a man of his age, married 25 years, is going through at this stage in life. And he reassures her that life for her will get better. "The more you know who you are and what you want," he says, " the less it upsets you."
Much of Murray’s stay in Japan is an effort to understand the director of his commercial shoot, the lady who unexpectedly visits him in his room as a gift from a Japanese executive, the waiters, doctors, and "the Japanese Johnny Carson," with whom he attempts to communicate. The communication is never quite complete, but he tries to accept that fact philosophically. Coppolla inserts some fun references here to his earlier roles in Caddy Shack, Groundhog Day, and I was looking for something from What About Bob, but I may have to go back a second time for that. I wouldn’t mind. This is an aging Bill Murray, struggling a little with life, but coming out OK…one I can identify with. It’s a pleasant movie about the importance and the delight of unexpected friendship.
Lost in Translation, starring Bill Murray and Scarlet Johansson, with Giovanni Ribisi, is now showing at the Showplace East in Bloomington, and reviewing the movies for WFIU, I’m Joe Bourne.