Lost in Translation 1.0 stars

Sofia Coppola's sophomore effort marks an advance over The Virgin Suicides: a phlegmatic comedy about two American outsiders who fall into an ill-defined relationship in Tokyo, a bond forged of loneliness and misery between an over-the-hill Hollywood action star (a sadsack Bill Murray, who surely should have been written as an over-the-hill comedy star), in town to collect a cool two million for a series of whisky ads, and a neglected young wife (the seductively throaty Scarlett Johansson), who spends a lot of time lolling around her hotel room in transparent pink panties while her photographer husband (the dependably dreadful Giovanni Ribisi) busies himself with work. The "satirical" touch tends to be lighter this time, with perhaps a few exceptions: the suspected anorexic blond starlet (with so many to choose from, couldn't a better fit have been found for this role than the robust Anna Faris?), the tutti-frutti television host misleadingly labelled "the Johnny Carson of Japan," the S&M call girl ("Lip my stocking!"), and the imported guitar-and-vocal lounge act billed as "Sausalito." Truly on the lighter side, however, there are large numbers of points scored, even if easy ones, with the advertising campaign ("For relaxing times, make it Suntori time"), the language difficulties, the faxes and FedExes and phone calls from the all-business wife in California, the exercise machine, the local cuisine, and the inevitable karaoke bar (Murray reverting to SNL form for his soup-ladle renditions of Elvis Costello's "Peace, Love, and Understanding" and Roxy Music's "More Than This"). And the touristing in and around Tokyo is pleasantly relaxed. Coppola's uncertain visual style, vacillating between a fussy precision and a fumbling offhandedness, could never be mistaken for her father's. Which, for purposes of independence and the establishment of a separate identity, would be a good thing if only the style could be recognized as distinctively anybody's. 2003.

Duncan Shepherd

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