Tuesday, March 09, 2004


Saw Lost in Translation Saturday night. I wanted to see what much of the the ado was about. (And, tongue-in-cheek, I have to ask: Was it all about nothing? Teehee.)

I have always admired people who write a great book, or a really good original movie. As I thoroughly enjoyed past winners of the Oscar Best Screenplay awards (think Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets Society, Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects, all the way back to All About Eve), and as I’m destined to be an Oscar winner for Best Screenplay, I decided it was high time to watch the past year’s Oscar winner for Best Original Screenplay. I can’t say that I like Sofia Coppola immensely; I always though it was a sucker deal that she ended up kissing the dashing Andy Garcia in her father’s The Godfather Part III (okay, okay, so she just filled in for Winona—yeah sure, she was the only one available).

Of course I know that Bill Murray plays a has-been action star who is shooting commercials in Japan and hinging on a midlife crisis; and that Scarlett Johansson plays the tag-along wife of a hotshot photographer who always leaves her alone. But what was it all about? Two of my friends who have already watched it both had the same sentiments: “What was the point?” Murray, listless, midlife crisis-bound, meets Johansson, pretty, filled with ennui. They are both alienated. It takes them a third of the movie to actually really meet; before that it is a whole lot of foundation—the goings-on behind Murray’s commercials, Johansson’s long hours of doing nothing. They get to know each other and paint the town red, two significantly different people thrown together by circumstance and making the most of their time together.

But what is the point, indeed? They go and examinine everything Japanese from the nightlife and the weird bars, to ikebana, to outrageous talk shows (wonderful!)… and a lot of things get lost in translation, not just between Japanese and Americans, but also between the two of them and their spouses. Do I get it? Not really, because I don’t know what it’s like exactly being there. I don’t really get it; but I watched them not get much of it, either. It was strange, being privy to these intimate conversations and manifestations of melancholia. And I can totally relate to the feeling of being lost, of feeling irrelevant.

Great movies for me are sometimes filled with spectacle (Gladiator, The Return of the King) or the stark, harsh realities of life (Traffic). But sometimes, good movies come from little places in the heart, exploring the niceties of human emotion and the subtleties of interaction. Among my favorites in this category would be One True Thing, now joined by Lost in Translation.

It is not the best film of the year (you know what that is for me, reinforced by the Best Picture Oscar!). But compared to its co-nominees in the Best Screenplay category, I think it did deserve the Best Original Screenplay honor. Sofia Coppola has been able to provide a meaningful study of human experience in an alien culture; when the most alienation these two people experience are from their respective spouses. Bill Murray’s characterization of Bob Harris was riveting and I’m sure elicited much sympathy for his portrayal of the pathos of midlife. His and Scarlett Johansson’s subdued performances are the real core of the movie, helped along by Coppola’s script. I also enjoyed the scattered comic moments, especially the afore-mentioned talk show and Anna Farris’ adorable portrayal of someone whom people said was Cameron Diaz (there was a resemblance, indeed, although to the Cameron of movies such as Charlie’s Angels and There’s Something About Mary).

My most esteemed high school English Literature teacher said that literature was all about the significant human experience. No matter how mundane these experiences may seem to other people, the fact that it is significant to certain people gives one license to write about it and explore its minutiae. This is where this movie succeeds, in providing us a new view of what could be stereotypical characters, feeling out an alien culture, and thoroughly being not-so-mundane.

buffy quote for the day
From last night's Anya episode, Selfless:
Villager (about Olaf who has been turned into a troll by Aud and is trying to convince them that he is Olaf, in some weird Slavic tongue): "The troll is doing an Olaf impersonation!"

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