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Lost in Translation
2003 (2004) - Focus Films (Universal)

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround

Lost in Translation Film Rating: A+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A/B-

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B+/A

Specs and Features

102 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ??), keep case packaging (with locking clips), "Lost" on Location documentary, A Conversation with Billy Murray and Sofia Coppola featurette, original and unedited Matthew's Best Hit TV footage, 5 deleted and extended scenes, Kevin Shields' City Girl music video, theatrical trailer, forced preview trailers, animated film-themed menus with music, scene access (24 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & DTS 5.1) and French (DD 5.1), subtitles: English (captions), French and Spanish

"Let's never come here again, because it will never be as much fun."

Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a middle-aged Hollywood actor whose career is past its peak. Bob's sold-out, having been paid $2 million to endorse a Japanese whiskey, and he's in Tokyo for a week for commercial and photo shoots. He's also using the trip as a reprieve from his marriage, which seems to have lost its luster. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), on the other hand, is a young, restless woman who has followed her fairly-new photographer husband to Japan on business. He's a workaholic, so she's usually left behind at the hotel with little to do. Charlotte has no idea what she wants out of life. Making matters worse, she's recently had that experience where she woke up one day and realized that she has no idea who her husband is, and what she was thinking when she married him.

Feeling detached from their lives, and finding themselves alone in a strange and utterly foreign land, Bob and Charlotte have a chance meeting in the hotel bar, and quickly see in one another kindred spirits. Striking up an unlikely friendship, they set out to explore the city, and discover not only a wondrous world all around them, but also renewed faith in life's possibilities.

To describe the film in any more detail would be to rob you of the pleasure of experiencing it yourself. Lost in Translation is a rich, languid and almost dream-like, that taps perfectly into the loneliness and need for belonging that most people experience in their lives at one time or another. It's a sort-of romance, sort-of comedy, and sort-of fish out of water story... but the whole is much more than the sum of its parts. Second-time filmmaker Sophia Coppola's writing is well observed and her direction manages to strike just the right style, tone and pacing. Every bit as important, if not more so, Bill Murray evokes the perfect balance of charm and sadness in his character. You feel for this guy - you feel Bob's fears, his pain, his quiet despair. And you believe the connection he establishes with Charlotte, in part of because of great chemistry Murray and Johansson have onscreen. This is absolutely the best performance of Murray's career.

I should note that the film has been criticized by some for the fact that its laughs seem to come at the expense of Japanese cultural differences, but this criticism is entirely misplaced in my opinion. The simple reality is cultural differences are often amusing. But being able to see the humor in such situations is not the same as demeaning them. If you watch this film, I think it's clear that both the filmmakers and the characters have a healthy respect for Japanese people and culture. There is abundant beauty and compassion here if you choose to see it.

Universal's DVD release includes the film in very good anamorphic widescreen video quality. The film's color palate is very unusual - almost otherworldly. Sometimes the colors are subdued, and at other times, the screen is filled with vibrant lights and flashing neon. Contrast is generally very good, and while you'll see some light grain (in keeping with the theatrical presentation), the clarity and detail is at all times excellent. The film's soundtrack is also satisfying, particularly for its subtlety and atmospheric character. This mix isn't going to immerse your in surround gimmicks, but the soundtrack perfectly supports the almost illusory visual style of the film. Both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 sound options are available, and the DTS was definitely my preference for its greater clarity and naturalism.

At first glance, the extras on this DVD leave something to be desired. But after you sit with them for a while, you'll appreciate them more for their quality than quantity. Coppola opted not to record a commentary, and I think she made the right decision. This really isn't a film that needs commentary. It's more experiential - you're better off just immersing yourself in it than listening to what others have say. Besides, much of what you'd want to hear and see is covered in the interesting (and often very amusing) behind the scenes documentary, "Lost" on Location. It's about a half hour long, and gives you a very unassuming glimpse at the filmmakers and the production. You can tell that whoever was holding the camera knows Coppola pretty well (I believe Spike Jonze), and so there's a trust and intimacy to the piece that is very refreshing. It's great to watch Murray at work, both on and off the set, and it's obvious that he and Coppola really respect and admire one another. Particularly amusing is a scene in which Murray reveals to the crew a book he bought years ago as a joke - Making Out in Japanese - which offers Japanese pick-up lines. If you're a fan of Murray, you'll dig the guy even more after watching this piece. The only thing that's odd about the doc is that Scarlett Johansson barely appears in it, and is never interviewed. You wonder if A) she's got a bit of an attitude, B) didn't want to be bothered with it, or C) wanted too much money to participate.

Murray and Coppola's respect for one another is even more apparent in A Conversation with Billy Murray and Sofia Coppola, which is basically a short piece of video with the two of them talking during a break in the film's press tour. Also included on this disc is the original, unedited footage of Murray's character appearing on Matthew's Best Hit TV, and a number of non-anamorphic deleted and extended scenes (including Bob interacting with the water aerobics class, more of Bob sitting in the hospital waiting room and LOTS more of "actress" Kelly's inane banter at the press conference for her film). You also get the film's theatrical trailer, set to Elvis Costello's (What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding.

There's only one thing I hate about this DVD, and I REALLY hated it. When you start the disc, you're forced to sit through preview trailers for other Focus films. You can't skip them, you can't jump to the menu... best case, all you can do is scan through them. Universal really needs to stop with this crap. I about burst a blood vessel over it, dammit. L-A-M-E.

Ultimately, while the DVD could have included more in the way of extras, I'm not terribly disappointed that it didn't. What you get is pretty good when you sink your teeth into it. The bottom line is that Lost in Translation is an absolute gem of a film. Charming, amusing and moving, this is the kind of unexpected film experience that we live for here at The Bits. It's easily worth adding to your collection. Shameless forced trailers aside, of course.

Bill Hunt
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