Lost in Translation is a 2003 romantic comedy-drama film[note 1] written and directed by Sofia Coppola. Bill Murray stars as Bob Harris, a fading American movie star who is having a midlife crisis when he travels to Tokyo to promote Suntory whisky. There, he befriends another estranged American named Charlotte, a young woman and recent college graduate played by Scarlett Johansson.
Giovanni Ribisi and Anna Faris also feature. The film explores themes of alienation and disconnection against a backdrop of cultural displacement in Japan. Further analysis by critics and scholars has focused on the film’s defiance of mainstream narrative conventions and its atypical depiction of romance.
Bob Harris is a fading American movie star who arrives in Tokyo to appear in lucrative advertisements for Suntory whisky. He stays at the upscale Park Hyatt Tokyo and is suffering from strains in his 25-year marriage and a midlife crisis. Charlotte, another American staying at the hotel, is a young Yale University graduate who is accompanying her husband John while he works as a celebrity photographer in Japan. Charlotte is feeling similarly disoriented as she questions her recent marriage and is unsure about her future.
They both grapple with additional feelings of jet lag and culture shock in Tokyo and often pass the time by lounging around the hotel.
Charlotte is repelled by a vacuous Hollywood actress named Kelly, who is at the Park Hyatt Tokyo promoting an action film and gushes over photography sessions she has previously done with John. Bob and Charlotte frequently happen upon each other in the hotel and eventually acquaint themselves in the hotel bar. After several encounters,
when John is on assignment outside Tokyo, Charlotte invites Bob into the city to meet some local friends. The two bond through a fun night in Tokyo, where they experience the city nightlife together. In the days that follow, Bob and Charlotte spend more time together, and their friendship strengthens. One night, while each cannot sleep,
the two share an intimate conversation about Charlotte’s personal uncertainties and their married lives.
Bob spends the night with a lounge singer from the hotel bar on the penultimate night of his stay. Charlotte hears the woman singing in Bob’s room the next morning, leading to tension between Bob and Charlotte during lunch together later that day.
The pair reencounter each other in the evening when Bob reveals that he will be leaving Tokyo the following day. Bob and Charlotte reconcile and express how they will miss each other, making a final visit to the hotel bar.
The next morning, when Bob is leaving the hotel, he and Charlotte share sincere but unsatisfactory goodbyes. Bob takes a taxi ride to the airport.
He sees Charlotte on a crowded street, stops the car, and walks to her. He then embraces Charlotte and whispers something in her ear. The two share a kiss, say goodbye, and Bob departs
Coppola started writing the film after spending time in Tokyo and becoming fond of the city. She began forming a story about two characters experiencing a “romantic melancholy” in the Park Hyatt Tokyo,
where she stayed while promoting her first feature film, the 1999 drama The Virgin Suicides. Coppola envisioned Murray playing the role of Bob Harris from the beginning and tried to recruit him for up to a year, relentlessly sending him telephone messages and letters. While Murray eventually agreed to play the part,
he did not sign a contract; Coppola spent a quarter of the film’s $4 million budget without knowing if he would appear in Tokyo for shooting. When Murray finally arrived, Coppola described feelings of significant relief.
Principal photography began on September 29, 2002, and lasted 27 days. Coppola kept a flexible schedule during filming with a small crew and minimal equipment. The screenplay was short and Coppola often allowed a significant amount of improvisation during filming. The film’s director of photography,
Lance Acord, used available light as often as possible and many Japanese places of business and public areas were used as locations for shooting. After 10 weeks of editing, Coppola sold distribution rights for the United States and Canada to Focus Features, and the company promoted the film by generating positive word of mouth before its theatrical release.