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Bill Murray is one of those actors who seems to have been around forever, appearing in exceptionally entertaining movies such as Ghostbusters and Groundhog Day, both of which perfectly showcase his ability to handle both comedy and drama. Conversely, relative newcomer Scarlett Johansson—who is currently one of the hottest young talents in Hollywood—first came to my attention in 2000’s Ghost World, in which she stared alongside Thora Birch. In fact, based on the theatrical trailer, my initial impression of director Sofia Coppola’s Lost in Translation was that it seemed very similar in tone to that movie, but a spate of negative comments dissuaded me from checking out the theatrical release. Now, thanks to Momentum Pictures’ DVD, I have the opportunity to form my own opinion of this critically acclaimed film.

Lost in Translation

Feature


Murray stars as Bob Harris, a one-time big shot movie star who has been relegated to appearing in ad campaigns for a well-known brand of Japanese whisky. Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) is a young woman fresh out of college who is in Japan to accompany her photographer husband, John, (Giovanni Ribisi) on a shoot. A chance meeting at the hotel bar leads to the pair striking up an unlikely friendship, and together they help one another come to terms with their feelings of alienation, not just from the unfamiliar city in which they find themselves, but from their lives.

When preparing to write this review I did a little reading on Lost in Translation, and the general consensus among critics seems to be that the film is somewhat autobiographical. It’s true that Scarlett Johansson bears a slight resemblance to Coppola, and I’ve read theories that purport Giovanni Ribisi’s character to be based on Coppola’s (soon to be) ex-husband, Spike Jonze. The evidence becomes even more compelling upon witnessing Anna Faris’ hilariously accurate portrayal of a Cameron Diaz ‘type’ of actress. Whether any of this is true or not, it certainly made for an interesting second viewing of the film.

Lost in Translation
The film itself is difficult to describe, and in this respect it shares something in common with Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia. By this I mean that the film is to be felt rather than analysed to death, and at its heart Lost in translation is a love story, albeit a love of the spiritual variety rather than the physical. However, it is the talent of the actors that is chiefly responsible for the success of the film, and credit must go to them for breathing life into the material. The leads shine in their roles, especially Murray, who delivers a thoroughly convincing performance as the down-on-his-luck actor. Johansson also turns in a fine performance, displaying maturity beyond her years, but special mention must also go to the supporting cast, and in particular Anna Faris for her superbly ditzy turn as the chirpy, air-head starlet, Kelly.

Video


In my experience Momentum is a distributor with a fine track record in delivering consistently impressive transfers, and Lost in Translation is no exception. Presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio—complete with de rigueur anamorphic enhancement—the transfer is remarkably clean save for a few infrequent white flecks. A great deal of the proceedings take place at night or in the confines of dimly lit bars, and while I found the film a little too dark for my liking on occasion there can be no faulting the way in which this is handled. Black levels are consistently excellent and shadow detail remains superb throughout, even in the most dimly lit scenes. Colour rendition is also worthy of note, with the early scenes of Bob’s arrival in Tokyo perfectly capturing the bright neon of the city after dark. My only real criticism is that the image does present minimal grain, particularly in the darker scenes, but it’s certainly nothing out of the ordinary and in no way detracts from what is an admirable effort.

Lost in Translation

Audio


Lost in Translation arrives with 5.1 soundtracks in both Dolby Digital and DTS. For review purposes I opted to listen to the DTS track, but comparisons of selected scenes revealed no significant advantage over the Dolby effort. The track itself is a subdued affair, focusing more on subtle ambient effects than flashy gimmicks. That said, the track is extremely rich, with some fine use of the surrounds serving to communicate the hustle and bustle of the busy Tokyo streets. Other locations, such as amusement arcades and strip clubs, also present ample opportunity for the track to demonstrate some impressive discrete effects. Perhaps most importantly, I found the dialogue to be exceptionally clear and naturalistic on all but a handful of occasions, and even these instances are intentionally unintelligible. The on-screen events are underpinned by an evocative, yet fairly low-key soundtrack that greatly enhances the mood of the piece, and all in all I was most impressed by Lost in Translation’s aural qualities.

Extras


Momentum has furnished the DVD with a reasonable amount of supplemental material, although I would have welcomed the inclusion of an audio commentary from Coppola, Murray and Johansson. However, what we do get is an enjoyable array of extras that encompass both the promotional and behind the scenes elements of the production.

”Lost" on Location runs for a little under thirty minutes and provides us with a look behind the scenes on location in Japan. The segment is less far promotional in nature than most of these things, and I was very interested in what was going on. The piece contains a lot of footage of Murray clowning around on the set, using his rudimentary understanding of Japanese to intimidate the crew and so forth (of course this is all done with tongue firmly in cheek). The also plenty from Sofia Coppola and the rest of the crew, but as with the other features Scarlett Johansson’s involvement is minimal at best.

Lost in Translation
Matthew`s Best Hit TV is an extended version of Bob’s appearance on the insane Japanese talk show of the same name. Matthew, billed as "the Johnny Carson of Japan", actually has a great deal more in common with Graham Norton, and one can’t help but laugh at Murray’s stone-faced reaction to the host’s outrageous shenanigans (particularly when the eels are wheeled out). Next up we have Kevin Shields’ "City Girl" Music Video, which is basically a short montage of Scarlett Johansson clips from set to music—attractive, but not particularly enthralling.

Five Deleted Scenes follow, and fall under the headings ‘More Aqua Aerobics’, ‘Charlotte with Robots’, ‘Kelly’s Press Conference’, ‘Morning After Karaoke’ and ‘Bob in Hospital Waiting Room’. A number of these are really just extensions of existing scenes, but they still add to the viewer’s overall appreciation of the movie. I particularly enjoyed the extended press conference sequence, as it allowed for more of Anna Faris’ dippy ramblings.
 
A ten minute interview segment entitled A Conversation with Bill Murray and Sofia Coppola follows. The interview was conducted in Rome, in October of 2003, and although it’s interesting enough ten minutes really isn’t sufficient time where these two are concerned. Finally the disc also includes the film’s Theatrical Trailer, which successfully manages to sell the movie as something it most definitely isn’t.

Lost in Translation

Overall


Seemingly both loved and reviled in equal measure, Lost in Translation most certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes. However, I would urge anyone who dismissed the film based solely on the opinion of others not to make the same mistake as me. Lost in Translation is well scripted, superbly acted, funny, and surprisingly touching. Being that this is the first Momentum DVD I’ve had my hands on in quite some time, it was nice to discover that they still deliver the goods when it comes to the technical side of things, but as previously stated I would have welcomed the inclusion of a commentary track to bolster the comparatively lightweight extras. Still, I guess we can’t have everything we want in life. However, even this small complaint isn’t enough to detract from what is an excellent release, and I have no qualms whatsoever about recommending this disc.


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