Something About Lost In Translation Got Lost In Translation

I detest almost every manifestation of urban Japan I’ve ever seen, but Lost In Translation made even me feel frustrated with how pathetic the characters were in their boredom there. Bill Murray’s character (I can’t remember any of their names despite seeing the film only a few weeks ago) seems incapable of interacting with a Japanese person without barely-disguised derision. Scarlett Johansson’s character just stays in the hotel room the entire day, moping around in panties and looking ill-used.

In a number of scenes, she watches expressionlessly as her husband interacts with various floozy people, and I gather we are meant to feel sympathy for her, a philosophy grad surrounded by idiots. Strange then that in her own conversations with Bill, I never see any more depth in her than the average 16-year-old. Knowing Evelyn Waugh was a man doesn’t make you intellectual, it merely makes you slightly better informed than Adrian Mole when he was 13 and 3/4. There’s only so much enjoyment a film can give me when I feel no sympathy whatsoever for its characters. (And don’t tell me I don’t know what cultural disconnection is, every day in Singapore is pretty much a culturally disconnected day for me.)

Despite what I’ve written here, I don’t actually hate the film. I think it looked and sounded great. The precious 30 seconds where My Bloody Valentine’s Sometimes accompanied a jittery sweep of night and neon were quite possibly my most divine spent in a cinema since the doomed chicken sequence in the opening of City Of God, and okay, the bit near the end of Return Of The King when Legolas a.k.a. Vision Of Perfection appears in the doorway to greet the newly-awakened Frodo.

Er, where was I? Ah, Lost In Translation, and the reasons I don’t hate it. It’s got great cinematography, and I love the soundtrack because I am Kevin Shields’s bitch for life. To their credit, Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson also do their best with the shallow characters they got stuck with. But none of that affects the basic point that the screenplay is far and away the weakest component of this film, which means the Oscars voters that just gave it Best Original Screenplay must have got something that I didn’t.

I haven’t seen all the films that it beat to this award, but to the writers of Dirty Pretty Things and even Finding freaking Nemo, I say this: you were robbed.

[By the way, if you feel like watching a better movie about lonely souls thrown together by circumstance and forging an unlikely bond, please watch Last Life In The Universe, which is just as beautiful if not more beautiful to watch, and manages to deliver much more likable characters despite both its characters barely being able to communicate with each other in the same language, but which of course wasn’t nominated for any Oscars, given that its director is not Sofia Coppola.]


  1. But … but … Scarlett Johansson’s got a nice bootay! Surely you took that into consideration?

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m not all shallow like that. I think the rest of her body looks good too.

  2. I thought alot of the dialogue was very witty. I don’t know about depth but I found the interaction between the characters far more entertaining and unpredictable than your usual Hollywood romance.

    Bill Murray was magnificent. This was the best role of his career.

    ‘Cept maybe Ghostbusters II

  3. James, your views on what makes for entertaining and unpredictable romance are invalidated by the fact that you liked Cold Mountain so much you saw it twice.

  4. The appeal of The English Patient to me is largely Ralph Fiennes, the visual beauty of the film (even when he’s not on screen), and its commendable success at adapting what I thought was a fairly difficult book to adapt to screen. I didn’t see how they could ever match the quality of Michael Ondaatje’s prose, and then I saw the movie and was stunned by how well they managed. The romance in the story is peripheral, really.

    Cold Mountain, on the other hand, stakes the entire movie on you buying the romance, which I unfortunately didn’t.

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