Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson in Lost in Translation as Bob and Charlotte. (Focus Features)

Arts and Entertainment

Review: 20 years later, ‘Lost in Translation’ still isn’t lost in translation

The 2003 Sofia Coppola film recently celebrated its 20th anniversary and it still holds up to this day.
<a href="" target="_self">Jim Marsoobian</a>

Jim Marsoobian

November 16, 2023
Dreading the first of many five-hour-long driving days up to Canada this past summer, I desperately searched to find something to occupy me before descending into long-drive-induced insanity. I flipped through the catalog of our family DVDs, thoughtfully organized alphabetically by my very systematic mother.

I’d seen most of them probably a dozen times throughout my life. My fingers skimmed through each familiar, shiny silver disc until my eye caught one: Lost in Translation. It was a DVD title I’d seen in that box ever since I was old enough to read movie titles. It was a movie I knew my parents liked, yet I had no clue what it was about or what to expect.

And, ready to try something new rather than just rewatching the “Star Wars” movies for the 187th time, I decided to try it out. It turned out to be one of the most meaningful meaningless decisions I’ve ever made.

In case you’re unfamiliar, “Lost in Translation” is a film released on Oct. 3, 2003 — 20 years ago, to be exact. It’s older than I am. However, it’s anything but outdated. So why am I writing an article about a 20-year-old movie? It’s simple — this article is an ode to its timeless tale of people that can be shared, appreciated, and understood by all.

In honor of the film’s recent 20th anniversary, acclaimed director and creator of “Lost in Translation,” Sofia Coppola, recently gave an interview with Rolling Stone magazine. Sofia Coppola, who is also the daughter of Francis Ford Coppola, has also directed many other films including “Marie Antoinette,” “The Virgin Suicides” and “Priscilla.”

In her recent Rolling Stone interview, she talks about the film’s obvious age gap, her love for the nostalgic Park Hyatt Tokyo hotel where the movie was filmed, and how she didn’t make that much money off of the film even with its high profits.

“Lost In Translation,” on the surface, is simply about two people who meet when they are visiting Tokyo, Japan.

Charlotte, played by Scarlett Johansson, is a young woman who is unsure about what her future will hold. She travels with her photographer husband, played by Giovanni Ribisi, who has a project in Japan. While her husband is away working on a photoshoot in another part of Japan, Charlotte gets to explore the city of Tokyo. She visits temples, arcades, and explores the streets of the city while she is simultaneously exploring herself.

In her hotel, she meets Bob Harris (played by Bill Murray), a middle-aged actor who is in Tokyo to shoot a whiskey commercial. He spends most of his time there in the hotel.

The rest of the film follows these two as their relationship evolves. Bob and Charlotte form a deep connection against the backdrop of the happy hustle and beautiful bustle of Tokyo. They learn about each other, and themselves, and, individually and together, learn about a culture that is different from theirs.

Sure, I admit, based on that synopsis alone the film can appear boring, meaningless, and heartbreaking. And it can be hard to determine what this movie is even about. I, being the movie-crazed person that I am, had to find something more. I can’t watch a movie and not know what the movie is really, truly about.

And then I figured it out. These two people are, quite literally, lost… literally, they’re “lost” in Tokyo, surrounded by different customs and languages. But really, they’re lost in their lives.

Bob is lost in terms of feeling stuck. His home life is tiring and he knows his career won’t have much of a future. He has already come to terms with the feeling that his life’s peak was in the past.

Charlotte is lost in terms of not feeling seen. She doesn’t get enough attention from her husband or the other people in her life. She’s also lost in what she wants her future to look like.

So when these two meet, it’s like everything they were searching for has finally shown up. Suddenly this place they both felt lost in felt comfortable, and they both felt comfortable in their own lives. Even for just a short amount of time, they had what they needed. Bob pays attention to Charlotte, and Charlotte allows Bob to have an experience where he doesn’t have to live up to his past, but rather just be himself.

They’re two people who just happened to find each other when they needed each other the most. And while some view this movie as a romance, (which is a tad questionable due to the 35-year age gap between Murray and Johannson), I view it as just two people connecting. Sort of a “platonic soulmates” situation. Ironically, I can see how the labels of their relationship are, too, lost in translation.

This film received a pretty good IMDb score of 7.7. I gave it a 10. Rarely do I give movies a 10 (with the exceptions being “Little Miss Sunshine” and most Wes Anderson films), but this film deserves it beyond question.

I felt so moved after watching this movie. It’s one of the most magical movies I’ve ever seen. No, it’s not about castles or witches or aliens, but rather about the magic between people.

And to be honest, I’m not sure what it is about this movie that stands out so much to me.

Maybe it’s the enchanting music. Maybe the breathtaking scenes of Tokyo. Maybe the extraordinary acting. Maybe the expertly crafted storyline. But maybe it’s simply the way the movie makes me feel. 

It’s one of those films that I like to call tragically happy — hopeful and miserable but still manages to be a comfort movie. Because sometimes life works out and sometimes it doesn’t, and you just have to live as much as you can in your life. You have to work with what you have. If you’re stuck, you’ll get unstuck and do something that will completely change the way you think and feel and your whole life will never be the same again.

You just have to live and let life happen to you. You just have to live no matter what you do and that’s what this heartbreaking, messed up, comforting, perfect, beautifully magical movie taught me. That’s what this film is about. That’s what life is about.

That’s why, to this day, this movie still holds up. It’s not lost in translation. But maybe we are.