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Lost in Translation (2003)

Can you think back to the happiest, greatest time of your existence? Just one moment, a few seconds in time where you thought life couldn’t get any better?

At the time of this epiphany, did you make the most of the time you had? Or instead, did you think: “this will end soon. I’ll miss this.” The feeling that it will never be the same again?

Let’s never come here again because it would never be as much fun.”

For me, this is the most profound aspect of Lost in Translation. Sofia Coppola’s film is a glorious exploration in to what happens when we love something that was never meant to be ours. Or, if it was meant to be ours, what happens when we must part with it.

It starts off with a view of Scarlett Johansson’s derriere, a perfectly peach-shaped…thing (and I still can’t think why Coppola decided to open with this shot) but, I digress.

The plot is simple, minimalist, and reductionist. By this, I mean that Coppola’s film – about being ‘found’ and the feeling of being lost – is a completely complex concept boiled down to its purest form. Charlotte (Johansson), a young, newlywed postgraduate (how difficult that must be), has moved to Japan with/for her husband (Giovanni Ribisi) – a photographer on tour with the biggest band in the world. Simultaneously, veteran-though-washed-up actor Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is on a promotional tour in Japan, advertising whiskey and himself in an attempt to revive his dwindling career. Back home in America is his independent, frankly exasperated wife, who sends Bob samples of prospective furniture for their refurbished home. Bob’s children never want to speak to him and aside from the odd phone call, these facsimiles are his only connection to home. Our two lost souls, Bob and Charlotte, converge by chance, of course, in the bar of their mutual hotel, where they hardly “strike up” a friendship – sure, they see each other. But they don’t just talk. They speak.

This film is incredibly understated, and I cannot overstate how much so. With the risk of thinking “what the hell did I just watch?”, Lost in Translation is a genuine masterpiece. Its subtlety is what makes it shine, in its conversational, almost epistolary format. It’s as though we’ve found some letters to and from Charlotte and Bob, who form an ultimately powerful bond. What’s important to remember here is that everything is downplayed – the friendship between these two characters is entirely dissimilar to Thelma & Louise, Detective Lee and Detective Carter of Rush Hour or any other “buddy flick”, precisely because the audience can’t see anything particularly special between Bob and Charlotte. But we can sense it. Once the film has ended, and you carry on with your day, you may remember the adventures (if you can call it that) and the connection between these two people.

I wish I could sleep.”

Yeah, me too.”

In terms of events, nothing really happens in Lost in Translation. Still, something about watching it six years ago at the age of 14 made me love this film like no other. What was it?

Was it the incredibly ethereal, haunting music featured? Yes.

Was it the simple portrayal – the minimalism – of emotional connection? Yes.

Was it the idea of being ‘discovered’ in a world where you are truly alone? Maybe.

Or is it the realistic representation of the human condition? It’s ambivalence of losing something that was never yours to begin with, but having its memory with you for the rest of time? The film is a projection of the phrase, “You never know what you’ve got until it’s gone” but, with Charlotte and Bob, we do. The two characters don’t formally meet until thirty minutes into the movie – everything before this time allows the audience to see what’s going on in both of their lives; how they spend their time, and who’s involved. What I mean to say is – after they’ve met – any scene where one character is present without the other, it just feels wrong. Forget mismatched socks, it’s leaving the house without a shoe. It’s wearing a bra with one cup. It’s neither half-full nor half-empty. It is empty.

Charlotte, a sombre soul, is lost within the confines of her hotel room in a country she doesn’t know, unable to speak the language and is fundamentally unable to communicate. The same is true of Bob, who, despite being adored by Japanese fans, is entirely isolated.

Bob and Charlotte are lost within a foreign land, but worse still, have lost track of their lives and connections with their own spirits. Their goals, ambitions and perceptions are incredibly marred by their circumstances, and it’s when they find each other that they can learn to live again – in completely unconventional terms. A rebirth, you could call it.

Remember though, that this is not played out to us; there is no obvious dialogue to further emphasise an emotion. Lost in Translation is 60% facial reading, 30% long-shots, and 10% dialogue. You can make of every situation what you will – in fact, you’ll have to make something of it, because no idea is forced upon you whilst watching – no, observing – these people.


  • My perfect soundtrack. Devastating as well as haunting, I’m taken back to the 90s.
  • The infamous whisper at the end mirrors the rest of the film – it is what you want it to be.
  • The revelation that beautiful, intelligent, witty people do, in fact, have problems.
  • Soul-searching with no clichés. Or cheese.
  • Anna Faris.
  • I’ve not mentioned how hilarious this film is, but it really is.


  • Again, if you’re not in the mood for a slow-paced thought-provoking film, this isn’t for you.
  • Some major Japanese stereotyping, for laughs.
  • The film makes me guilty of labelling – I’ve spent many a night wondering about the nature of Bob and Charlotte’s connection; what kind of love do they share? Lost in Translation will bring about the categorising monster in you, in a society where every relationship in the world must have a label in order for us to understand it.

Final Verdict


A must-watch for thunderous, downpour nights, Lost in Translation is sombre, real life on film. And I still can’t figure out why it’s so unforgettable. Maybe you can help me?


10 thoughts on “Lost in Translation (2003)

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  6. This is an amazing, unforgettable movie! a theory to suggest why the Charlotte and Bob have a connection could be because they are both searching for something the other person has; bob is going through a midlife crisis and is finding a way for him to be young again so he tries to find it through charlotte, and Charlotte is figuring out what she wants to be in life and she is hoping to find an answer through Bob. This could suggest why they are both lost, they are lacking something in their lives in which the other person has.

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