Jetlagged insomniacs lounging comfortably together, the air between them laden with unspoken emotion, Bob (Bill Murray) and Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) watch La Dolce Vita on TV - - a film, like their own, about lost souls in a sparkling city. For Rome, read Tokyo, as writer/ director Sofia Coppola uses the Orient to explore her own ennui, with what appears to be an (at least semi-) autobiographical amble over issues of choice, commitment and love lost and found.
It's simplistic to equate an artist with their art, but Johansson probably wasn't wanting for words of advice from her director, as she depicts a listless young woman who forlornly searches for meaning in her life. She doesn't need to work for a living, but seeks a profession - - seeks something - - to define her.
Giovanni Ribisi's portrayal of a geeky-hip photographer friendly with air-headed stars (Anna Faris, portraying a dumb blonde action heroine she insists is not based on Cameron Diaz) also invites comparison with Coppola's soon-to-be-ex-husband Spike Jonze. All of which is a means of underlining that Lost In Translation is clearly a heartfelt film. Though how much sympathy you'll feel with its spoilt, likeable leads may depend on whether you too live in a danger-free, middle-class bubble, which affords such luxuries as considering, ""Who am I and what am I going to do with my life?"" rather than, ""How can I feed the children and pay the bills?""
It also underlines how slight a picture this is, with not much more to it than this wondering and the observation that friendship is, like, important. Otherwise, there's a lot of jokes at the expense of the Japanese, with Murray's character faced with too-short showerheads, `comically' polite aides and, in one uncomfortable-but-amusing scene, a tongue-tied hooker who wants him to rip her stockings (""Lip them?"" he asks, bemused). These arguably xenophobic elements are countered by Charlotte's innocent, wide-eyed awe at Japanese culture, but they still leave a nasty taste in the mouth.
However, cut through the culture-clash comedy and a moving mood is conjured, as well as acute observations about crumbling, restricted relationships. It's a sweet, small, pseudo-'70s-style film. As La Dolce Vita's anti-hero says: "Beautiful? Well, if you like American beauty..."