Films to Avoid: Lost in Translation
Isaac Bettridge explores the disappointment of Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation
Back when Joker was all anyone could talk about, a common point of criticism was that Joaquin Phoenix’s performance was so good that it made you forget how dull, pretentious and clichéd the rest of the film actually was. Lost in Translation, Sofia Coppola’s 2003 film starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson as two Americans dealing with alienation living in Tokyo, suffers from much the same problem. Murray’s star turn, which anchors the film, is genuinely great, making the rest of it all the more disappointing.
A dull, lifeless movie that feels infinitely long and yet is somehow under two hours, it spends an inordinate amount of time telling us how disaffected these characters are without giving us much reason to care about them when they display so little agency or desire. Murray and Johannson are inherently likeable performers, but their characters are unlikeable rich snobs, and the film’s refusal to delve deeper into their characters beyond their obvious boredom makes their performative angst seem less profound and more like the pouting of a bunch of spoilt children.
Worse still is its portrayal of the Japanese, which feels outright racist at times: numerous scenes portray them as small, jabbering, rude and impossibly alien people, whose ‘otherness’ forms the backbone of the entire film and is thus impossible to separate from the good parts of it. The only scenes in which they are afforded any sort of dignity is through their interaction with the white, American protagonists or in scenes that highlight ‘ancient’ Japan, such as flower arrangements or Buddhist temple ceremonies, playing into orientalist stereotypes about the ‘wisdom’ of the east. Sofia Coppola is an undeniably talented director, but this is far from her best film, and the amount of awards buzz it got seems remarkably disproportionate. Best to give this one a miss.