Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Brief encounter in Japan

Over Thanksgiving, I DVRed Lost in Translation. It's on one of the Showtime channels off and on, and is also available on DVD.

Bill Murray plays Bob Harris, a successful actor who is traveling to Japan to film some commercials for Suntory whiskey for a large sum of money. Financially he's made it, but his home life leaves something to be desired. At the hotel, he's already gotten a fax from home about missing one of his kids' birthdays, and his wife is constantly pestering him about renovations going on involving the new study that's going on the house.

Meanwhile, there's Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson). She's not long out of college, having studied philosophy at Yale. She's married to John (Giovanni Ribisi), a photographer to the stars who is in Japan on a business trip to photograph some rock bands among other things. His job takes him away for long hours and to other parts of the country. Charlotte isn't even certain why she's in Japan, since she's utterly uncertain what she wants to do with her life.

With two people who are both at a crossroads in their lives, both in a country where they don't speak the language, you just know they're going to run into each other at some point. The fact that they're both in the same hotel helps. One night they sit next to each other at the hotel bar and start talking to each other. What with them both having time on their hands, they decide to spend some of that time together

An emotional bond develops between the two, although it's decidedly uncertain whether they have the same bond for each other. On top of that, we know that they're not going to be meeting for very long, if only because Bob should have gone back to the States earlier but delayed his flight for a lucrative appearance on a Japanese TV talk show. Soon enough, his flight home comes, leaving the viewers to wonder what's going to happen to these two people.

Lost in Translation is on its surface a fairly simple movie. But that belies a much more complex range of emotions. In watching Lost in Translation, I found myself thinking of an earlier movie, David Lean's Brief Encounter. But I liked Lost in Translation much more. I think the thing for me is that when I watched Brief Encounter, I got the distinct feeling that the woman (Celia Johnson) was trying to defend her actions. Lost in Translation is much more ambiguous, letting people to decide for themselves about the characters.

Bill Murray is surprisingly good here. For people who are used to seeing Murray in all those vintage comedies, he shows that he really can do drama, too. Scarlett Johansson had already done a bunch of juvenile roles, but this is one of her first adult roles (she's 19 playing mid-20s; usually it's the other way round), and she brings a decided maturity to it.

If you want to sit down and watch something intelligent, you could do far worse than to watch Lost in Translation.

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