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HTF Review: Lost In Translation

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#1 of 195 OFFLINE   Jason Perez

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Posted January 22 2004 - 08:04 PM

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Lost In Translation

Studio: Universal
Year: 2003
Rated: R
Film Length: 102 minutes
Aspect Ratio: 16X9 Enhanced Widescreen (1.85:1)
Subtitles: English, French, and Spanish
Audio: English - Dolby Digital 5.1; English – DTS 5.1; French – Dolby Digital 5.1

It is funny how life works. Sometimes even the most seemingly ordinary things, even when they are temporary in nature, can completely change a person’s perspective on life. With that in mind, I was impressed with Director Sofia Coppola's delightful film, Lost In Translation, exemplifies how a chance meeting between two people results in an unexpected bond of friendship that significantly changes both of their lives.

Lost In Translation features legendary comedian Bill Murray in the role of Bob Harris, an American movie star who accepts a hefty fee to travel to Tokyo and do a commercial for a Japanese whiskey company. As we come to find out, Bob is rich, and Bob is famous, but he is still having the same trouble coping with middle age that most “regular” folks do. In his particular case, he is dissatisfied with the current state of his career, and his relationship with his wife of 25 years seems to failing.

Upon arriving in Tokyo, Bob checks into the posh Park Hyatt Hotel, which boasts a staff that is very attentive to guests (in accordance with Japanese tradition). The Hyatt also has a hip watering hole that seems to draw lonely souls in as if it had a tractor beam. It is in this spectacular location that our Mr. Harris comes into contact with a young newlywed named Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), whose life is also filled with some discontent. Like Bob, Charlotte is having second thoughts about her marriage, and is trying to discover a career path after majoring in philosophy in college.

In Charlotte’s case, it seems that her spouse (Giovanni Ribisi) is a sought-after photographer, currently in Tokyo on assignment, who works far too much to devote the proper amount of attention to her. Charlotte is also less than hopeful about her prospects of becoming a self-sufficient career woman. Obviously, these two wayward souls share quite a bit in common, and as they converse, the groundwork for a beautiful friendship is laid down.

As their friendship grows, Bob and Charlotte spend time together not only by partaking in the Tokyo nightlife, including trips to karaoke bars and sushi joints, but also by staying in and chatting. Together, they discuss a variety of personal issues, hang out watching movies, and learn about each other’s lives, hopes, and dreams. Lost In Translation really fires on all cylinders during these sequences, as Ms. Coppola takes the characters through what are easily some of the most realistic and thoughtfully crafted conversations you will ever see in a film. Perhaps most fascinatingly though, is how Coppola keeps the viewer guessing whether Bob and Charlotte’s relationship will ever evolve from friendship to love.

Sure, Lost In Translation has a lot of things going for it – a great story, a breakthrough directorial effort, and good humor – but perhaps its greatest asset is the remarkably talented Bill Murray. Several months ago, I remember seeing a movie critic on television call this Bill Murray’s “best performance ever”. In the case of Bill Murray, this comment made me roll my eyes, especially considering his huge (and very well-accepted) body of work. Seriously, this man has starred in some of the most successful comedies ever, including Ghostbusters, Caddyshack, Stripes, Scrooged, and Groundhog Day, to name but a few.

Once I actually saw the marvel that is Lost In Translation, however, I think that the aforementioned critic hit the nail squarely on the head. Even though he is arguably one of the best comic actors of all time, Bill Murray’s turn as Bob Harris, which is bittersweet, touching, and yet also very funny, may very well be the actor’s finest hour as a performer. As Harris, Murray renders a mesmerizing, wonderfully subtle turn as a life-weary, middle-aged film star who rediscovers his zest for living in a completely foreign environment.

Shades of the old, wisecracking Murray characters of the past are here, but the more sensitive aspects of Murray’s organic and utterly believable performance outshine any elements of comic mischief. Please don’t take this to mean that Lost In Translation is not a comedy though, because the film is also chock full of extremely funny moments, despite succeeding as serious drama. It is just that Murray’s performance is so rich, and so complex, that the more “serious” elements of his character stood out more (in my opinion).

In terms of comedy, as you might have expect, most of the laughs evolve from Murray’s antics, and he is in top form here. If you like Bill Murray, especially as much as I do, I would be genuinely surprised if you do not enjoy this movie, and I mean a lot. Really, I don’t think Sofia Coppola could have tabbed anyone better suited to play Bob Harris than Murray, who adeptly creates plenty of laughs out of a variety of different, and sometimes strange, situations. Whether Bob is struggling to bridge the language barrier that exists between him and a Japanese television crew, interacting with random Japanese people, or hamming it up on an exercise machine, you cannot help but laugh.

I could keep rambling, but if you were gracious enough to stick with me for this long, I am sure you have got the point. Please indulge me in one more observation pertaining to the effortless nature of Sofia Coppola’s direction though. Lost In Translation makes Ms. Coppola’s maturation as an artist and filmmaker evident, in the way she allows the audience to find the humor in this material for itself, without forcing anything. More importantly, she lets viewers become emotionally invested in these richly-developed characters in a similarly organic fashion. The end result is a quirky little movie that probably started out as a small, personal work, but ended up being a movie whose brilliance has been seen and appreciated on a very wide scale. Indeed, this is one of the best-reviewed movies of 2003, and rightfully so.

As much as I enjoyed this film, I have to say I am disappointed with the way it appears on DVD. Although Universal does present Lost In Translation in anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), the image has a tendency to be “soft” to the point of distraction at times, and fine detail is also sorely lacking. Scenes where the characters are a distance from the camera are particularly troublesome. In addition, black level is not quite what it should be, so shadow detail is a little muddled in some places.

Things aren’t all bad though, as color rendering is very accurate, with the bright, flashing lights of Tokyo’s busy streets looking especially good. Flesh tones generally have a smooth, natural appearance as well, with the subtle gradations between characters’ pigmentations being readily apparent. Unfortunately, the bad outweighs the good on this home version of Lost In Translation. It is a shame that the image is plagued by the same lack of detail and softness that impaired Universal’s recently released American Wedding DVD, because this is a film that definitely deserved better treatment.

Note: A “fool-screen” version also exists! If you’re buying, make sure you get the right one!!! (That would be widescreen, of course! Posted Image )

Choices, choices! The sounds of Lost in Translation are available in several different flavors, including both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 channel tracks. As usual, I chose DTS for the review, and upon comparing the DTS track to the DD track, I was not surprised to discover the DTS track to have a slightly more realistic soundstage and slightly more definition in the lower registers of the audible spectrum. I must, however, point out that these differences were very subtle, and given the subdued nature of the source material, either choice is just fine.

To be a little more specific, frequency response is solid, and the front soundstage, where most of the “action” occurs, is nice and spacious. Since this film contains a lot of dialogue, I am also happy to report that both the DD and DTS tracks recreate the characters’ speech faithfully. Indeed, in addition to being rich and full-bodied, dialogue contains no hissing or distortion, and it is never a chore to discern what the characters are saying.

Finally, with regard to rear channel and LFE information, I cannot tell you that there is a wealth of either, although I would be disappointed if there was, since it is not contained in the source material. With that in mind, the .1 channel should still provide a little added punch to the music in the film (and there is a lot of it), particularly during the nightclub sequences. Similarly, the rear channels are used to generate ambient noise, create a greater sense of realism during scenes that take place outside of the Park Hyatt Hotel, and fill in the listening space when musical selections are being played.

Overall, this DTS track did a fine job of reproducing the source material, and left me with very little to gripe about!!!


Lost on Location:
This lengthy featurette is an intimate, and sometimes goofy look at the making of Lost in Translation. There is a lot of footage of director Sofia Coppola, who is amazingly reserved and soft-spoken for a director, and producer Ross Katz, as well as the rest of the cast and crew. Although this featurette moved a bit too slowly for me to say that I loved it, I did find it worth watching, and I especially appreciate the effort to provide something a little bit different than the typically fluffy EPK-type behind-the-scenes material. In addition, there is some interesting footage of how the crew worked around a major typhoon (biggest since World War II).

Deleted Scenes
There are a total of five deleted scenes, which are briefly outlined below:

--- “More Aqua Aerobics” Bob decides to have a little aquatic fun with some middle aged Japanese women.

--- “Charlotte With Robots” A few shots of Charlotte exploring Japan, and encountering a couple of robots.

--- “Kelly’s Press Conference” This scene features a lengthy press conference with the bubble-headed actress Kelly, who is promoting her action vehicle “Midnight Velocity” and talking about how much she loves Japan.

--- “Morning After Karaoke” Charlotte gives Bob a wake-up call.

--- “Bob in a Hospital Waiting Room” This is an extension of the scene where Bob is clowning around with the old woman in the hospital waiting room while Charlotte’s foot is being checked out.

Found in Conversation
This bonus feature, recorded in October of 2003, consists of Sofia Coppola and Bill Murray talking about the film on a rooftop in Rome. Murray does most of the talking, and says surprisingly little of real interest, and unfortunately, the soft-spoken Coppola’s comments are not terribly insightful either. Murray does ham it up a little bit when talking about having to “learn Japanese” for the film, but other than that, about the most interesting information he offers involves how his extensive travels helped him identify a little bit with the culture-shock experienced by Bob Harris’ character.

Matthew’s Best Hit TV – Extended Scene
This extra is an extension of Bob Harris’ appearance on the bizarre “Matthew’s Best Hit TV show, which is hosted by a very odd Japanese man in a really bad suit.

“City Girl” Music Video
The music video for the song “City Girl”, by recording artist Kevin Shields, is included.

Theatrical Trailer and Promotional Materials
The theatrical trailer for Lost in Translation is included, as well as promotions for Focus Features, 21 Grams, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and Swimming Pool that open the disk. By the way, although they cannot be skipped, these promos can be fast-forwarded through.


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Lost In Translation is an extremely satisfying film, and in addition to making for an immensely enjoyable time at the cinema, it was easily my most pleasant movie-going surprise of 2003. The beauty of this film is not only that it is so affecting and funny, but also that Sofia Coppola managed to create such a delightful piece of work without resorting to the contrivances and clichés that predominate comedies with romantic elements in them.

Unfortunately, in terms of presentation, the image quality on the DVD release of this Focus Features treasure leaves something to be desired. The rest of the presentation is not bad, on the other hand, as the DTS audio track does a lovely job of bringing the sounds of Tokyo into the home, and there are a variety of unique bonus features included (even if they are not very “deep”), including several deleted scenes. As such, I am comfortable recommend this release despite the sub-par transfer.

If you have not seen Lost In Translation yet, I cannot overstate the many reasons why you should. If you are a Bill Murray fan, see it. If you love good movies, see it. If you want to laugh, see it. If you have already seen it once, see it again…it is even more rewarding the second time around!!! Recommended!!!

Stay tuned…

Release Date:
February 3rd, 2004
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#2 of 195 OFFLINE   Marc Colella

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Posted January 22 2004 - 09:36 PM

Thanks for the review Jason.

I enjoyed the film also, one of the better ones this year (although I found it a tiny bit overrated).

I was on the fence about this DVD - since I'm not sure this is something I'd be watching more than a couple more times... but the dissapointing transfer may have made my decision for me. It's inexcusable that a new film can have such a mediocre transfer.


Was discussing this film this morning with a co-worker, and we both agreed that LIT had some similarities with In The Mood For Love (which is another great film).

If you enjoyed LIT, I highly recommend also watching In The Mood For Love. Criterion's DVD has a beatiful presentation and the supplements are very informative.

#3 of 195 OFFLINE   Alex Spindler

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Posted January 22 2004 - 09:40 PM

Shame to hear about the presentation. However, this is still a must purchase for me. Plus, the nice extras seem to be a real bonus! Thanks for the review.

#4 of 195 OFFLINE   Ronald Epstein

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Posted January 22 2004 - 10:26 PM


First of all, excellent review. It may seem
bias for me to say this, but you have really
refined your writing talents as a reviewer here.
You have made us very proud.

As for Lost In Translation....

Never before in such recent memory have I heard
so much talk about a film than I did of LIT
during the course of 2003. Critics apparently
loved this film, and both Coppola and Murray
received their share of praise for their efforts.

With that in mind, more than any other DVD now
on my preorder list, I am looking forward to
seeing this film for the first time.


Ronald J Epstein
Home Theater Forum co-owner


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#5 of 195 OFFLINE   Eric Peterson

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Posted January 23 2004 - 12:17 AM

I'm disappointed to hear about the transfer and disturbed that Universal is continuing with the forced trailers. Are they ever going to get it right? That said, this was hands-down my favorite film from last year and will be buying it on release day. Ron, I hope you enjoy the film. I'd like to hear your thoughts afterward.

#6 of 195 OFFLINE   PaulEB


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Posted January 23 2004 - 12:44 AM

Great review Jason. I saw this at the theater and believed it would be a sleeper hit. I'm disappointed to learn about the transfer quality though and for that reason, I will probably not be picking it up. Wake up Universal! And get rid of those darn forced trailers!

#7 of 195 OFFLINE   Patrick Sun

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Posted January 23 2004 - 12:56 AM

I wonder if the video transfer might be close to the theatrical print because I didn't find the theatrical print to be stunning either (the only time it's anywhere near vibrant is during the scenes of Japan at night in the city), so I won't rush to judgment yet until I get to watch it (and I will buy it because it's a great little film that does so many things right).
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#8 of 195 OFFLINE   Robert Crawford

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Posted January 23 2004 - 01:03 AM

Patrick, I was waiting for somebody to speak up that actually watched this film in a theater. It will be interesting to see how people that watched this film in theaters compare that presentation to the dvd presentation. Crawdaddy

#9 of 195 OFFLINE   RobertCharlotte


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Posted January 23 2004 - 01:34 AM

I thought the print I saw in the theater was pretty soft, too, so it may not be the transfer. BTW, for anyone still on the fence about this DVD, let me assure you that the opening shot of this film is worth the cost of the DVD all by itself, above and beyond all the other great things about this film.

#10 of 195 OFFLINE   Haggai



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Posted January 23 2004 - 01:41 AM

What was the opening shot, RobertCh? I saw this in the theater as well and enjoyed it very much, but I don't remember exactly how it opens.

#11 of 195 OFFLINE   Patrick Sun

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Posted January 23 2004 - 01:46 AM

Wasn't it a shot of the cityscape in Tokyo from Bob Harris's point of view as his cab takes him to his hotel.

Here's the link to the review thread of this film on the HTF. Not universally loved, but probably well-liked at a 7:1 ratio.
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#12 of 195 OFFLINE   Eric Peterson

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Posted January 23 2004 - 02:00 AM

I was going to mention the softness in the theater also. It may be that the DVD is an accurate transfer. The fact that Universal is handling is made be back off.

#13 of 195 OFFLINE   Joe Schwartz

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Posted January 23 2004 - 02:00 AM

No, the opening shot lingered on one of Scarlett Johansson's assets.

#14 of 195 OFFLINE   Paul_Scott


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Posted January 23 2004 - 02:05 AM

ok, Universal deserves a lot of sneers and quizzical glances when it comes to their output and what they deem worthy of release, but i have to say that the overwhelming majority of Universal product that i have bought in the last year actually looks pretty damn good. in fact, most of it looks damned stellar. even a film of dubious merit like More American Graffiti was one of the best looking discs on my system. i just watched Brotherhood Of The Wolf finally today, and the PQ to me was mouth watering. the video quality here sounds disappointing, but i will be VERY surprised if it isn't pretty close to as good as it can be. i missed this in the theaters too, but have been very much looking forward to seeing it and will be there on the 3rd to snap this up.

#15 of 195 OFFLINE   Marc Colella

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Posted January 23 2004 - 02:06 AM

It's a tough call. A review on DVDTalk (I'd rather not post the link out of respect for Jason's excellent review) has some issues with the transfer as well - mentioning some compression artifacts in darker scenes and some specs. I wonder if the Canadian release (which has a much nicer coverart) has the exact same transfer.

#16 of 195 OFFLINE   Lew Crippen

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Posted January 23 2004 - 02:36 AM

I wrote a post to this effect, but deleted it when I saw Patrick and Robert’s comments. My memory of this in the theater was that the print was soft and not sharp. All, at least in my opinion, in keeping with the intent of the movie, where jet lag combined with being in a foreign culture and with almost everything taking place after dark lends a dreamlike quality to the movie. Personally I think that a very crisp, sharp treatment would be counter-productive. Of course, I may be in error and remembering the film as I wish it were made.
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#17 of 195 OFFLINE   Andrew Bunk

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Posted January 23 2004 - 02:51 AM

FWIW, chock me up as another who remembers a soft looking picture in the theater. I thought that added to the mystique actually-kind of like being stuck somewhere unfamiliar and feeling like you're in a haze. Already have this on pre-order...
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#18 of 195 OFFLINE   Tim Glover

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Posted January 23 2004 - 03:05 AM

Great review Jason. Also looking forward to seeing this for the first time. Bill Murray is one of my favorites.

#19 of 195 OFFLINE   Matt Pelham

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Posted January 23 2004 - 03:11 AM

Just watched this disc the other night. As for the movie, I absolutely loved it and will update my top of 2003 list when I get a chance. As for the PQ, I'm not a good judge of detail, but I did notice heavy grain in a lot of the scenes, especially the darker ones.

#20 of 195 OFFLINE   Rich Malloy

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Posted January 23 2004 - 03:11 AM

Yes, the film had a sorta filtered look at the theater, so that is perhaps what was reproduced here. But, generally speaking, I find DVDs to be sharper than most theatrical presentations (usually too-dim projector bulbs, or not quite exactly in focus... always misframed, of course), so if something looks particularly hazy on DVD, I'm also prone to question it. On the other hand, there've been a fair share of "goosed" transfers, where the colors are too vivid, too much contrast between light and dark, etc. It's just so damn hard to judge these things. But it's real easy judging this movie. Now that I look back, it was probably the most enjoyable experience I had at the movies this year. Bill Murray is outstanding, every bit as good (and maybe a little better) than he is in "Rushmore". And I'm in love with Scarlett Johanssen. Funny that. I fell in lust with another "Focus Films" actress, the enticingly nubile, nearly overripe Ludivine Sagnier in "Swimming Pool", but I have a sweeter, more chaste affection for Scarlet. And big kudos to Sophia. I thought her first film, "The Virgin Suicides", was exceptional for a first effort, but "Lost In Translation" really shows how much she's grown in the interim. She's clearly been watching a fair share of latter-era Wong Kar-Wai movies, and I notice someone up above mentioned "In The Mood For Love". A great film, but I'd also recommend Wong's "Chungking Express", specifically the second story (the one with Faye Wong). It has that same sense of dislocated time, and the reverie of a quietly developing romance. I wonder, does Sophie mention Wong as an influence in any of the special features?
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