Lost in Translation

Lost in Translation is a

film about loneliness, featuring two individuals drawn to each other partly

by the pull of genuine attraction but mainly by the push of having no other

respite from their loneliness. Sofia Coppola, who wrote and directed, tries

as hard as possible to maximise the isolation of her two central characters:

she holes them up in a featureless luxury hotel in Tokyo; disorients and alienates

them with jetlag and the screaming, flashing, neon world outside; confuses them

with incomprehensible Japanese culture, and annoys them with dreadful fellow

westerners in the hotel.

Most devastatingly, however, Coppola gives both of them wedding rings, and

sees to it that their loneliness comes not despite their married status, but

because of it.

Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is a young bride with rather too much time on

her hands, married to a successful photographer (Giovanni Ribisi) who is so

busy that at first he doesn’t pick up on her despair. Later, he simply disappears

altogether to a photoshoot elsewhere in the country, leaving his wife alone

in the Park Hyatt Tokyo. Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is a film star with a wife

back home who’s far to preoccupied with interior decoration and school runs

to be able to lend him a sympathetic ear. While she’s better than he is at methods

of communication – she’s a master of the fax and the FedEx package –

she’s miles away, both physically and emotionally, from hearing his desperate


The hotel itself is a main character in the film, providing comforts and annoyances

in equal measure, and it’s not clear which is more alienating. The self-propelled

curtains and whirring fax machines are bad, and the elliptical trainer with

a mind of its own is worse, but the double glazing and enormous bathtubs have

a much more deadening effect on anybody who – like the protagonists in

this film – is doing little more than hanging around the hotel killing


Bob is an American film star who has travelled to Japan in order to pick up

an easy $2 million for endorsing Suntory whiskey. He hates himself for selling

out, he’s repulsed by the Suntory people he has to deal with, he’s being forced

to stay an extra couple of nights in the hotel so that he can go on a dreadful

Japanese talk show, he can’t sleep, he can’t have any kind of conversation with

his wife; hell, he can’t even go for a swim in the hotel’s pool without having

to watch some ridiculous aquasthenics class. It’s got to the point where the

annoyances are even self-inflicted: he’s set his cellphone to the most annoying

conceivable ring, maybe on the grounds that feeling angry is better than feeling

nothing at all.

Murray’s performance is about as good as screen acting gets. His face is one

of the most versatile instruments in Hollywood: most of the time, in this film,

there’s really no need for him to talk at all. Here is a man who can turn a

bland advertising slogan into an angry and yet hilarious denouncement of what

he has become, filled to bursting with sarcasm and loathing, just by using his

eyes. Johansson can’t compete, but luckily Coppola doesn’t ask her to: the role

of Charlotte is a lot softer, and the 18-year-old actress does an excellent

job in presenting Murray with a yin to his yang.

It takes a long time for Bob and Charlotte to befriend each other. Both have

found a certain measure of miserable solace in their solitude: Bob sits drinking

whiskey at the hotel bar, while Charlotte, a Yale philosophy graduate, has been

reduced to listening to cheesy cod-philosophical spiritual self-help CDs through

world-excluding headphones. When she stumbles across some kind of shinto ceremony,

she’s reduced to tears by the fact that she feels nothing at all.

But because they have nothing to do and no one else to turn to, Bob and Charlotte

end up spending a lot of time together, especially those long sleepless nights

in a strange and foreign land. Tokyo, here, is a noisy, colourful, exotic place,

somewhere it’s nice to be able to have a fellow westerner with whom to escape

from your Japanese friends with a predilection for lap dancers or the vapid

Hollywood actress singing in the hotel bar. The city is shot, by Lance Acord,

with an intensity not seen since The Pillow Book – but here,

unlike in the Greenaway film, there’s chaotic real life, running in the streets,

crazy Japanese youth.

In the midst of all this, something starts to bloom between our protagonists

– something precious, fragile and beautifully doomed, like a cherry blossom.

Thrust together by circumstance, the friendship moves inexorably in the direction

of romance, the very artificiality of the situation intensifying desire while

denying any possibility of a real-world relationship. If you could love someone

deeply, just for one night, without even having sex, would you? And how would

you feel in the morning, when you had to end something which in many ways never

even existed in the first place?

Seeing this very state of affairs approaching, might you get drunk and have

meaningless sex with someone else? While it was happening, would you say that

you never wanted to leave the hotel, the last place on earth you would ever

want to be? Watching it receding, would you go for a walk in the city of your

fugue-like adventure, tears forming in your eyes? Going back to your wife and

children, would you feel impossibly torn between your family and your only hope

for happiness?

These beautiful, painful episodes are expertly interspersed by Coppola with

hilariously funny set-pieces involving Murray at the height of his comedic abilities.

The masseuse, the commercial director, the hotel gym: ask anybody who’s seen

the film about these scenes and they’ll start smiling, if not laughing out loud,

just by remembering them.

But the scene which sticks the longest in the mind is the one where Bob watches

Charlotte get into the elevator as he’s leaving the hotel. Last year, Malcom

Gladwell wrote a piece

for the New Yorker about facial expressions, explaining that some, such as the

one known as action unit

1, can generally only be formed involuntarily. We raise our inner eyebrows

all the time, without thinking, when we are unhappy, but only a handful of people

can do it deliberately. Woody Allen is one; Bill Murray is another. Allen uses

his frontalis, pars medialis to make us laugh; here, Murray uses his to break

our hearts. On screen, shot with an unflinching camera, is a picture of emotional

paralysis to pierce the soul. It’s probably too subtle and art-house a film

to garner Murray an Oscar, but there’s no doubt he deserves it.

This entry was posted in Film. Bookmark the permalink.

77 Responses to Lost in Translation

  1. Michelle says:

    Beautiful review. Another moment I noticed is when both characters hug each other good bye and and Bob whispers something into Charlotte’s ear that the audience is not privy to, which was a cool moment of privacy between them – nice touch by Sophia.

  2. Frankenstein says:

    Tokyo is a “noisy, colourful [sic], exotic place”.

  3. Murray rules, dude! No, seriously, our little SNL alum has become quite an intriguing American actor. The widely-panned 1984 Murray vehicle “Razor’s Edge” now demands a well-deserved second look in light of this stunning performance. He always had the chops, he was just stuck re-making “Stripes” most of his adult life.

  4. Jackie says:

    Your review is right on target. I’ve seen “Lost in Translation” four times since Sept. 19th. I truly feel that Bill Murray makes a strong candidate for the Academy Award if given a chance.

    I can think of no less that four moments in the film that drive home this point. Scarlett Johansson is the perfect match and deserves consideration as well. Viewers should not pigeon-hole Mr. Murray into only being able to give one type of performance on which he was first noticed. More than this, much more, there is substance to his acting.

  5. Sherrill says:

    I am so much in love with this movie, I surprise myself.

    Two of my favorite scenes: Bob and Charlotte are at a friend’s party, drinking Saki and doing Karaoke; next scene at same party, we see her singing Karaoke in a cute pageboy pink/blonde wig. She’s clearly enjoying herself, but not overstated; Bob looks at her both amused/longingly. This scene is one I wish I could’ve joined in on.

    The other favorite scene: When Bob carries Charlotte in his arms to her room (she’s either passed out from all the Saki or she’s just plain tired); he tucks her in, gently touches her, she opens her eyes for a brief moment and smiles, then she goes back into dreamland, contented. Bob leaves the room, acting like a perfect gentleman/friend/caring person.

  6. ben says:

    I saw the film last week; we were lucky enough to receive two sneak preview tickets from StellaScreen. Oh, I live in London and there’s often a serious time-lag between US releases and UK releases. Anyway, I thought it was exquisite. My favourite [sic] part was where Bill Murray sings Roxy Music’s “More Than This”. While he can’t approach Brian Ferry’s tenor, he replaces it with an off key baritone singspeak that captured the mood of the song, his life at that moment, and his love of Charlotte perfectly. One thing that Bill Murray has is range, but it only gets used by smart writers and directors. Compare his Herman Blume or Bob Harris to his Raleigh St. Clair or his Carl Spackler. Maybe that’s only range in two directions, but I’ll take either. They’re both great.

  7. dorian says:

    can anyone tell me where i can buy hanging cherry blossoms like charlotte put up in her hotel room? thanks!

  8. erika says:

    I loved the film. Just beautiful. And for me, like for Michelle, one of the highlights was the whisper at the end.

  9. roxie says:

    hey ericka,

    i am looking for the hanging cherry blossoms for my room too, weird! can you tell me if you hear of where you can get it?

    thank you!!!!


  10. michelle says:

    I have been searching the internet for the cherry blossoms but i couldn’t find anything. does anyone else have an idea where to get some hanging cherry blossoms??

  11. LH says:

    Great review, put into words what I had been thinking. Thanks!

  12. Wil says:

    Honestly one of the most boring and pointless films I have ever seen. The director never got over her jetlag when she made. Neither did the actors! I wanted my money back.

  13. wil says:

    Quote from Bill Murray’s interview about director Sofia Coppola: “…She looked tired sometimes and you had to smack her around a little bit just to wake her up…”

    It shows in her film…

    Compare this film next to a “Brief Encounter” by David Lean (1945!) and it shows how even the script got …lost in translation.

  14. Tom says:

    Lost in Translation…..great movie…the point of the title is what happens in the end: Bill whispers something to Scarlet’s ear…what did he say?!?!?! That is whats “lost in translation”…anybody out there know?!?

  15. amy says:

    Just read an interview with Bill Murray. Interviewer asks: “Your character whispers something to Scarlett in a crucial scene, can we know what you said?”

    Bill Murray answers “you never will”

    Oh well…….

  16. Leslie says:

    i was able to pick out “I love you” and something along the lines of “I’m coming right back”… other than that, it was a mystery.

    Then again, I have a really clear surround system at home, and just played it over and over again until i could pick it out.

  17. Elizabeth says:

    Rented the movie and saw it tonight for the first time! I loved it! Brilliantly simple, in that we can all relate the the awkwardness and lonliness.

    I don’t know what he said to her at the end but i’d like to think that they are atleast both sure that somehow, somewhere, someday, that they’ll end up together and are happy enough knowing that.

    Or i could wake up from dreamland and realize they had a moment of reality and will cherish it forever no matter what course their lives take.

    on a lighter note, i second the question by Dorian on December 20th about the cherry blossoms. i want some too!!! i searched the web and had no luck. any searchers out there who found something?

    Elizabeth M.

  18. Josiane says:

    About the cherry blossoms (sakura in japanese). Apparently, they are rather common in Japan around the Sakura festival time, if you know someone in Japan they could get some for you.

    I too searched the web thoroughly for those hanging sakura branches, but couldn’t find them either. So I decided that this summer, I would try to do some myself, either the closest that I will be able to reproduce from the movie, or personalized ones, I don’t know yet, the easier to conceive.

    If it turns out cool and does not take days to do, if anyone is interested I might eventually put some on Ebay. But I will start this art project this summer only if I don’t get a job ;p

    I absolutely loved that movie and its music. It’s wonderful. By the way, if anyone is interested, I have a friend on Ebay selling a japanese version of the soundtrack with one song that’s not on the american CD. It’s 27$ US plus s/h.

  19. Dani says:

    soooo funny… I’ve been searching online for days to find those hanging sakura plants… I had no idea what they were even called and finally came across the name “sakura”….so put it into a search engine with absolutely no affiliation to this movie, and this was the number one link. I want one of those SO bad…I saw them in the movie and had to rewind it three times to show family members and ask if they’d ever seen them or what they were called. If anyone found anything online at all please oh pleeeeaaaase e-mail me at Smeeoch@aol.com. Thanks sooo much!!! soooo funny… I’ve been searching online for days to find those hanging sakura plants… I had no idea what they were even called and finally came across the name “sakura”….so put it into a search engine with absolutely no affiliation to this movie, and this was the number one link. I want one of those SO bad…I saw them in the movie and had to rewind it three times to show family members and ask if they’d ever seen them or what they were called. If anyone found anything online at all please oh pleeeeaaaase e-mail me at Smeeoch@aol.com. Thanks sooo much!!! <3

    excellent movie!!! <3

  20. Latiffa says:

    I just watched the movie for the 4th time last night and decided I absolutely had to get those paper blossoms, too. Has anyone had any luck finding them or info about them? It’s driving me NUTS!

  21. Heather says:

    Because of this beautiful movie I too am on a search for those damn hanging paper blossoms. Seeing others write about them here is the closest I’ve gotten to finding something about them online. :/

  22. Theou Aegis says:

    I’ve found out two things concerning the whisper at the end. One person said it’s along the lines of, “You have changed me irreversibly blahblahblah Stay here and I will be back for you in a week.” However, Scarlett Johannson said it wasn’t scripted, that Bill Murray just whispered some things into her ear. Perhaps it was about the filming, not the film itsself. It all depends on at which stage in production the scene was taped.

  23. Bain says:

    The script can be found online here http://www.script-o-rama.com/snazzy/table3.html

    There is something written for it but I have heard that much of the movie ended up being add libed by the cast… So, what is written and what is said is probably 2 different things. Can anyone read lips?

  24. Erin says:


  25. voxcom says:


  26. googly eyes says:

    Fabulous review. Sorry I haven’t read it before.

    I have been searching for a year and still haven’t found them. Damn blossoms. Maybe it is about time I got off my ass and just made them already.

    On the whispering, I heard the first part quite clearly on my supersonic home system but the last part had been removed. Drops right out.

    Do love Bill. Wonderful Bill. Razor’s Edge had me rethinking my love of literature.

  27. ben says:

    Someone in this world must be able to find those cherry blossoms that they used in this movie. This is ridiculous!

  28. RH says:

    I saw this movie several times in different theaters, as well as several times at home after buying the DVD. I stumbled upon an oddity between the two experiences even before I heard people grumbling about the movie. There are many rather important lines of dialog that are not audible on the DVD, athough are clearly audible in the theater enviroment. The vital importance of these lines of dialog may not even be clear if you arn’t able to hear them, due to their particular placement in the scenes.

    The audio on the DVD was poorly mastered.

  29. kate says:

    hey. i live in japan, and just the other day, in a store, i saw those cherry blossoms hanging from the ceiling. i dont speak japanese, but am going to have a friend go with me. i plan to figure out where the store owner bought them and put some up on ebay soon. wish me luck 😉

  30. rusty says:

    Does anyone have any pictures of the Flowers as seen in the movie? I live about twenty Miles from San Francisco’s Japantown … and wouldn’t mind going there. They are having the annual “Cherry Blossom Festival” next month!

    E-mail me if you have pix!

  31. Bren says:

    Hey, I SOOO wanna know what he whisperd at the end of the movie.. all i got was “i was ready? bla bla bla on the way back, you should tell him the truth, okay?” and then she says “okay”

    But the first part.. what does he say?! Any figured out yet?

  32. Steve says:


    At the end, Bill Murray whispers: “I’ll always remember the past few days with you…don’t part mad, tell him the truth, okay?”

    Sounds like she’s leaving her hubby…eh?

    It bugged me for a long time…I slowed down/cleaned up the WAV file using Creative Suite’s SB24 bit card…and used an EQ to hear it as plain as possible. Put my text to it when it’s played at 1/4 the speed and it’s almost perfect.

  33. Bren says:

    Steven, i dont know if you ever gonna read this.. but THANK YOU! ive been trying 2 figur this out for SOOO long.. Your my god! Lmao.


  34. joel says:

    I had read somewhere that he says to Charlotte, “You want to have a better performance? Go up there and tell him you love him right now.”

    This would be referring to Bill Murray telling Charlotte that she can change things with her boyfriend so she won’t end up in the same vacant relationship that he did with his wife.

    Even if that’s not what he said, I still find that to be the best version I could have hoped for for the movie’s climactic whisper.

  35. nico says:

    He definitely says “… on the flight back, tell him the truth, okay?” at the end but can’t quite make out the first bit. Seems to start with “promise me” which makes sense, but the rest is really hard to hear.

  36. Tom says:

    i think steve’s (#32) version of bill murray’s last words make most sense. and even if it’s not what he really says, it seems fitting and a nice way to end the movie. obviously her relationship is bad, since her husband is more in love with his job and the flaky people he’s dealing with (like that ridiculous blond actress). and murray’s character is primarily drawn to her because he feels that her marriage would turn out like his. since he can’t change his situation that easily anymore, because he’s very attached to his kids, he at least wants her to not make the same mistake. he’s a father-figure for her, so this advice makes perfect sense.

  37. ionshunt says:

    loved it too…couldn’t help myself trying to find out what the last sentence was, even though i know it was pointless since it’s done on purpose. I m not an english speaker but i heard (again and again) something like :

    ” I’ll see you ( inaudible)so hold it right there until ( inaudible) ok ?” and she answers, of course : “ok”

    This however doesn’t prove anything, they might not see each other again…..booohhh

    he could be giving her some advice about her marriage or life, yet that would be sad and patronizing.

    So i guess they ‘ll be seeing each other in the future. don’t you ?

  38. Glen says:

    About the whisper: The passionate kiss at the end tells me that it wasn’t a father figure telling her to patch things up at home… but rather a line meant to bring hope to the main characters relationship, as seen in Bill’s demeanor after the whisper and kiss.

    I thought it was a great movie overall, it celibrates simple things, and I applaud that.

    Throughout the movie I couldn’t help but flip-flop my opinions on the whole situation… on one had I felt it was bad that the movie makes you simpathise with two people who are pretty much being unfaithfull to their spouses… without actually “going all the way”. On the other had you see Charolette, and see that she desprately needs love, and then the lonely hero comes in to save the day, and see that they’re happy.

    The one thing that this movie needed more of was engrish, a subtle bit of engrish here and there would have made for some beautiful inside humor that this movie could have shared with a select few.

  39. Courtney says:

    Thank god I am not the only one looking for the freaking cherry blossoms. FYI it is a year after someone posted the note about the cherry blossom festival in SF …April sometime? I live in Orange County CA..but I AM going to fly up for the festival just to see if I can buy them… if I find them I am buying a TON. If I get them and anyone wants one you can contact me on myspace under Ocfashionista@aol.com.



  40. Matt says:

    Pretty amazing that we have all these people claiming to hear exactly what was said, yet even then they’re all hearing different things.

    The script isn’t punishing you by not letting you hear the whisper, it’s a reward. That whisper can be whatever you think it is. Whether you’re a romantic, a cynic, or somewhere in between, the unintelligible whisper provides a perfect ending. I know exactly what he said, but I’m not going to tell you. You have to figure it out for yourself (hint: turning up the volume will not help)

  41. mononita says:

    fantastic review…my thoughts exactly, but better phrased.

    I agree, that whisper is the best touch to a movie already made memorable by its beauty and simplicity. Let’s just translate it in our own way, and know that each of us, privately, is privy to Charlotte and Bob’s secret.

  42. Tom Scheff says:


    Very helpful review of Lost in Translation. Am obssessing about it. Will check out what Steve says he found in the whisper by using hightech. Later.


  43. Tom Scheff says:

    I checked out Steve’s deciphering of the whisper in the sound studio on my campus. He was right!

    The second half (tell the truth) is much clearer than the first (always remember).

    Looked at the righ way, this film might be a masterpiece. I have witten a longish essay on this movie, almost 2.8k words, that makes this claim. May I send it?

  44. Alexandra says:

    I need to know the last words. I have looked everywhere but can’t find it. Please someone, help me.

  45. ManateeBob says:

    RE: final scene whispers

    If you look at the copy of the script which is available on the internet (appears to be scanned to PDF), the dialogue as initially written was….

    Bob: “hey you”

    (close-up of Charlotte who is crying)

    Bob: “why are you crying?”

    Charlotte: “ill miss you.”

    Bob: “i know, im going to miss you too.”

    (he holds her close, hugs her good-bye)

    Bob: “bye”

    Charlotte: “bye”

    Bob: “bye”

    Then hes back in the car and drives off just as it plays out in the finished film.

    Now we all know in the film we are allowed to hear him close the dialogue with “OK?” to which she responds “OK” but based on the fact the DVD subtitles declare the dialogue to be “inaudible whispers” and Bill Murray refuses to disclose what his actual line was in the scene, it seems pretty clear to me it was intended to be an ambiguous situation where the viewer gets to imagine just what passes between them.

    I think the residual audio of whatever line Murray actually said was left in there so the audience knows he says something rather than merely giving the impression that they only embrace.

    Murray does a nice job I think, and Johannson is a biscuit of course but the film is a complete snoozer except for that last scene which for me redeems it. No nice tidy ending, great fuel for conversation after watching it.

  46. emily says:

    I have an unofficial response to what Bill Murray’s character says to Charlotte Johanson’s character. Something a friend of a friend said. He told her whatever it was that she needed to hear. I like that response. And I like the mystery behind it.

  47. eric says:

    Great review, and posts for a great movie!!!!

  48. eric says:

    Great review, and posts for a great movie!!!!

  49. Alex says:

    Wow! I never liked Bill Murray before and now I think he’s god! What a fantastic film. Have spent too many nights bored, jet-lagged and sleepless in hotels not to realise that this is the most brilliantly isightful piece of film-making. A beautiful and unusual love story. I loved it and it will stay with me forever!


  50. Alex says:

    Wow! I never liked Bill Murray before and now I think he’s god! What a fantastic film. Have spent too many nights bored, jet-lagged and sleepless in hotels not to realise that this is the most brilliantly insightful piece of film-making. A beautiful and unusual love story. I loved it and it will stay with me forever!


Comments are closed.