My sister-in-law Liz watched Lost in Translation again, knowing it’s a favorite of mine, and having been underwhelmed the first time. She was underwhelmed the second time, and asked me why I liked it. (The following comments include spoilers.)
Apart from the comedy set-pieces (lip my stocking; “Suntory time” photo shoot), the depiction of the perfect storm of isolation/alienation is probably the reason I like it so much: the sheer strangeness of Japan; the language barrier; the jet lag; being outside your daily routine and so feeling aimless and… lost.
(perfect storm of alienation [copyright image used to critique or promote a film, which is hopefully fair use])
I also enjoy how Japan seems weird to the main characters: the bowing, the efficiency, the shrine and the wedding the Scarlett Johansson character witnesses; the pachinko parlor she and Bill Murray race through; the unsexy “sexy” dance club; trying to order food from pictures on a menu that all look the same; the almost undersea world of the dim high-rise hotel jazz bar, out of place, out of time.
Liz noted how the characters keep their integrity (he wants sex, but respects her lack of passion), which adds to the feeling of nothing happening: it’s an alienation from conventional film plotting. And there’s the ending (which frustrated me) when we the audience is alienated by not being able to hear the contents of the whisper.
I saw a later Sofia Coppola film that begins with an endless sequence of a car being driven round in circles. I thought it was boring and self indulgent, but my movie-literate partner says it brilliantly captures the aimlessness and emptiness of Hollywood life. Which helps me understand how what worked for me didn’t get beyond “sequences of Tokyo life drag out rather aimlessly,” as my sister-in-law put it.