There's not a word or a wistful glance out of place in Sofia Coppola's offbeat comedy drama Lost In Translation. The tale of two Americans in Tokyo who come together in culture shock is all at once laugh-out-loud funny and lovingly tender. No doubt fans of Bill Murray will relish the definitive - and most subtle - performance of his career.
His hangdog charisma serves him to perfection as jaded movie actor Bob Harris, alone in Tokyo to shoot a naff whiskey commercial and thoroughly bewildered by the in-your-face enthusiasm of the Japanese. He's also severely jetlagged, but a late night drink at the hotel bar affords him the chance to meet fellow American Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson). A whimsical twentysomething, Charlotte is tagging along on a business trip with her photographer hubbie (Giovanni Ribisi) - only he's never around.
Their shared displacement reflects the crossroads at which they both find themselves: Bob faces a midlife crisis while Charlotte is struggling to find her place in the world. Like two negatives they are magnetically drawn to one another and inevitably wind up making beautiful music - in a karaoke booth.
"BITTERSWEET, BEAUTIFUL, IMMACULATE"
Writer/director Coppola keeps a respectful distance as the relationship unfolds, and while this means you won't be reaching for the tissues, Lost In Translation offers much more. There is honesty and a purity that's worth a dozen Hollywood tearjerkers, and which puts to shame the clumsy manipulation of romantic comedies like Love Actually.
There is an ethereal, dreamlike quality that isn't about soft-focus close-ups and a rousing orchestral score. The twinkling neon lights of Tokyo become the fairytale setting, its peculiarities giving rise to brilliantly surreal comic twists. Marvel at Japanese television's answer to Graham Norton, or the overzealous hooker who tackles Bob in what looks like an ungodly game of Twister.
The laughs sometimes come in broad strokes, but more often Coppola demonstrates a delicate touch, never losing sight of the heartbreak that looms from day one. Like the most memorable love of all, it is bittersweet, beautiful, and immaculate.