Should I Watch..? 'Lost in Translation'

Updated on April 18, 2019
Benjamin Cox profile image

Benjamin is a former volunteer DJ at his local hospital radio station. He has been reviewing films online for over fifteen years.

Poster for the film
Poster for the film | Source

What's the big deal?

Lost In Translation is a romantic comedy-drama film released in 2003 and was the second feature-length film written and directed by Sophia Coppola. The film stars Bill Murray as a washed-up actor who encounters a young woman experiencing similar feelings of loneliness as him while he's shooting a whiskey commercial in Tokyo. The film also stars Scarlett Johansson, Anna Faris and Giovanni Ribisi and was a huge success, earning critical plaudits as well as global takings of more than $119 million. Now regarded as one of the best films of the Noughties, the film proved to be Johansson's break-through onto the A-list as well as reviving Murray's film career which had shown signs of slowing down. However, the film has been criticised in some quarters for being too slow and obscure and the ending has also been criticised for not resolving the film's narrative.


4 stars for Lost In Translation

What's it about?

Aging movie star Bob Harris arrives in Tokyo to shoot a TV commercial for Suntory whiskey. Also staying at his hotel is Charlotte, a young woman left to her own devices by her enthusiastic new husband John who is working as a celebrity photographer in the city. As the days and nights pass, Bob finds himself increasingly isolated amid the bright lights of the city and even more so when working with the Japanese crew behind his advertising campaign. All Bob wants to do is go home to his wife until his eyes meet Charlotte's across the hotel bar.

Sharing the same feelings of loneliness, the pair of them begin spending more time together and slowly venture out into the city to see what lies waiting for them. But gradually, they slowly realise that they are beginning to fall for each other. Will Bob succumb to temptation, will Charlotte start an affair to get back at her husband and will either of them ever find what they are looking for?


Main Cast

Bill Murray
Bob Harris
Scarlett Johansson
Giovanni Ribisi
Anna Faris
Catherine Lambert
Hotel jazz singer
François Du Bois
Hotel pianist
Akiko Takeshita
Ms. Kawasaki

Technical Info

Sophia Coppola
Sophia Coppola
Running Time
102 minutes
Release Date (UK)
9th January, 2004
Comedy, Drama, Romance
Academy Awards
Best Original Screenplay
Academy Award Nominations
Best Picture, Best Leading Actor (Murray), Best Director
Murray's world-weary cynicism is perfect and he gives possibly the best performance of his career.
Murray's world-weary cynicism is perfect and he gives possibly the best performance of his career. | Source

What's to like?

It's easy to forget how good Coppola's screenplay is when Murray and Johansson are as good as they are in Lost In Translation. Despite the age-gap and gender difference, Charlotte and Bob are in the exact same place spiritually - confused by their surroundings and plagued by feelings of loneliness, they find and bring out the best out of each other. Throughout the movie, you're on tenterhooks to see whether they will actually get together because that's exactly what we've come to expect from Hollywood. But the film is happy to be something very different and is full of scenes where the characters show exactly what they're going through without mentioning a single word.

Murray, usually associated with more comedic roles, delivers the performance of a lifetime as Bob and yes, he still finds the time to engage on straight-up funny scenes such as at the gym or with the "Premium Fantasy Woman" whose grasp of English isn't the best. But when he's not being a clown, his internal conflict is etched into every craggy facial feature he possesses and his quiet nobility is refreshing to see. But Johansson, who was just 17 at the time of shooting, brings an unexpected maturity to the role of Charlotte who finds herself questioning her own choices. As for the ending, which I won't go into here, I personally loved it - not knowing how things ended makes you think for yourself and when was the last time you saw a film that performed that trick? Lastly, I really enjoyed the cinematography as the film delves deep into Tokyo's hectic lifestyle. I've always wanted to go and watching this film made me want to even more - it almost feels like a travelogue, turning the city into its own, enigmatic and energising character.

Fun Facts

  • Coppola has claimed that one of the film's minor roles was partly inspired by her first husband, director Spike Jonze. Given that Jonze was in Japan during their marriage with the other Jackass cast shooting their movie, it's probable that the character she's referring to is John, Charlotte's husband.
  • Coppola wrote the role of Bob specifically for Bill Murray and later said she wouldn't have made the film if he'd turned it down. Murray only agreed to appear via verbal confirmation and Coppola wasn't sure if he'd show up to shoot. Luckily, he turned up on day one.
  • When Charlotte rides on the Tokyo subway, she sees a man reading a comic called "Ghost In The Shell". Johansson would later star in the Hollywood remake of Ghost In The Shell in 2017.

What's not to like?

My Better Half is one of the film's many detractors who claim that the film is boring as nothing really happens on screen. I remember hearing others say at the time that the film was a victim of over-hype, another art-house effort that only appeals to snarky critics. Sure enough, the film is bereft of any meaningful action in the traditional sense - Bob and Charlotte head out to video arcades, karaoke bars and brightly-lit TV studios where little makes sense but they never seem to do much other than have a little fun. The film's narrative runs purely in dialogue and, more often than not, in facial expressions. This is minimalism brought into the 21st century and it sadly makes the film inaccessible to many viewers.

But for viewers who understand what the characters are going through, the film is a tortured look at two people who know what they could do but aren't sure whether they should. And all of this pain is evident through Murray and Johansson's performances - yes, it's sometimes difficult to watch a film that doesn't make it easy or plays fast-and-loose with expectations but that's what I like most about Lost In Translation. It makes you think and empathise with the characters and you really do. Which makes that controversial ending even better.

The film is more of a mood piece, full of unspoken dialogue and feelings instead of action and reaction.
The film is more of a mood piece, full of unspoken dialogue and feelings instead of action and reaction. | Source

Should I watch it?

Lost In Translation is not for everybody but for viewers with enough world experience or still trying to find their place in the world, the film is a sublime voyage of discovery. Murray has never been better and Johansson shows us once again that she is a much better actress than many of her films suggest. See the film with an open mind and you won't be disappointed.

Great For: Murray & Johansson's career, Tokyo tourism board, old-fashioned romantics, critics

Not So Great For: Japanese viewers, Spike Jonze, anyone expecting a typical Hollywood romance film

What else should I watch?

Declaring Murray's performance here as the best of his career seems counter-intuitive to me, given his legendary appearance in one of my favourite films of all time. His turn as grumpy weatherman Phil Connors in Groundhog Day is endlessly funny as well as tragic as he realises he's cursed to live the same day over and over again. But more than that, the film poses interesting philosophical questions that might go over the heads of many viewers because they're laughing too much. It remains a quality film that, ironically perhaps, I can watch again and again.

Coppola's work often deals with themes of isolation, loneliness and internal conflicts. Her debut feature The Virgin Suicides deals with the impact of adolescence and isolation on five girls traumatised after the suicide attempt of the youngest daughter while her later film Somewhere also looks at themes of adult responsibility and, interestingly, father-daughter dynamics (Coppola being the daughter of Francis Ford-Coppola, obviously). Thankfully, Lost In Translation isn't the only film dealing with a mid-life crisis - I also enjoyed Alexander Payne's brilliant Sideways and Steve Martin's last great performance in Father Of The Bride.

© 2018 Benjamin Cox

Soap Box

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • Benjamin Cox profile imageAUTHOR

      Benjamin Cox 

      2 years ago from Norfolk, UK

      The film was criticised in some quarters of the Japanese press for its supposedly stereotypical portrayal of the Japanese people and culture.

    • RachaelLefler profile image

      Rachael Lefler 

      2 years ago from Illinois

      Without giving too much away, why is Lost in Translation bad for Japanese viewers?

    • profile image

      Pat Mills 

      2 years ago from East Chicago, Indiana

      Films like Rushmore and this one helped Murray to transition from a younger smart aleck to an older, grouchy smart aleck. Other Murray favorites of mine include Ghostbusters and Moonrise Kingdom. Another fine midlife crisis movie is another Payne film, The Descendants.

    • Coffeequeeen profile image

      Louise Powles 

      2 years ago from Norfolk, England

      I've not seen this film, but I'd like to watch it. I do like Billy Murray.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at:

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the or domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)