Accessibility links

Breaking News

Sofia Coppola Film <i> Lost in Translation</i> is Top Oscar Contender - 2004-02-04

A little film about friendship, love and culture shock is up for Hollywood's biggest awards at the upcoming Oscars. Alan Silverman has a look at Lost In Translation.

Bill Murray plays Bob Harris, a middle-aged American matinee idol in Tokyo to film a whiskey commercial.

As the film's title suggests, more than Bob's work is Lost In Translation. Besides the language barrier, he is suffering the insomnia that afflicts many international travelers ... and, Murray explains, Bob is lonely.

"He didn't have his world and it's just a shock of consciousness where, all of a sudden, you're stuck with yourself. That's what it is," he explains. "When you go to a foreign country truly foreign there is a major shock of consciousness that comes on you when you see that 'it's just me down here.' There are no neighbors, no friends, no phone calls ... just room service."

Late at night or early in the morning, in the hotel bar, Bob meets a young American newlywed accompanying her husband on a business trip: Charlotte, played by Scarlett Johansson.

"I don't think Charlotte feels totally lost in Tokyo," she explains. "She knows where she's going, but because she feels so vulnerable and confused and overwhelmed in her life, being in that environment just adds to the craziness."

Charlotte and Bob become friends helping each other cope. There is clearly an attraction between the two, but unlike so many screen relationships, this one does not lead to romance or intimacy. Johansson says that would have been wrong for these characters.

"You have this feeling that they would wake up, look at each other and go 'why did we do that? Everything is different," she says. "Why did we ruin what we had?' It just wasn't right. My character is in love with her husband and it just wasn't appropriate. It didn't feel right and it was never a question."

"I think that would just become a whole other movie. I wanted it to be about the kind of relationship that is on the verge of something but doesn't turn into that," Writer/director Sofia Coppola says. She says Lost In Translation was inspired by her own experiences on international trips, often with her father, Oscar-winning filmmaker Francis Ford Coppola.

"It came from all my trips to Japan. I went to Tokyo, stayed in that hotel and had different experiences there. It definitely came from my observations of being in Tokyo. There are parts of me in both Bill Murray's character and Scarlett's character," she says.

Like her critically acclaimed debut film The Virgin Suicides,Lost In Translation is a detailed character study; and Coppola says she wrote the Bob character specifically for Bill Murray.

"He is just who I imagined when I was writing the script. I was always a fan of his and wanted to work with him," she says. "He just has such a great combination of being hysterically funny with this tragic, heartbreaking face and expressions. I wanted the character to have emotion and also be funny to watch in that situation in Tokyo. I wanted to see him in a kimono and misunderstanding."

Murray says he was flattered, but it took reading the script to convince him it was a good role for him to play.

"Usually when people say they've written something for you it's not good news. It's usually disturbing ... you're usually not going to like it; and a lot of people have said they've written something with me in mind and it turns out a lot of the lines are my lines from old movies. This is the only time anyone has ever written something [for me] that I wanted to do and was so well executed," he says.

Bill Murray is nominated for a Best Actor Oscar for Lost In Translation, which also earned Sofia Coppola screenwriting and directing nods as well as a coveted place among the five Best Picture nominees. Lost In Translation also features Giovanni Ribisi and Ana Faris and was shot on location in Tokyo.