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Movie Review: "Lost In Translation"

In an effort to distract myself from totally obsessing till tomorrow's game, we went to take in a movie this afternoon.

The choices were this one or "Matchstick Men", and while I still do want to see that one, I basically picked this one because it looked like a bit of light entertainment, and besides, it stars Bill Murray, who is one of the celebrity world's biggest Cub fans (I still remember the day in 1987 when Bill was one of the guest announcers when Harry Caray had his stroke, and after most of the game went by, somehow the WGN producers got Murray's mother in the booth, and Steve Stone asked her, "Mrs. Murray, was Bill raised by wolves?").

Instead of a manic comedy, I got a thoughtful film about the human condition and how people can find hope and solace and love in each other, especially when they least expect it.

Murray plays "Bob Harris", a poor-man's version of himself, a middle-aged American actor whose better days are 20 years behind him, traveling to Japan because Suntory (and boy, do they get great product placement) has offered him $2 million to do commercials for them. He's married, but his wife never appears -- we only hear her voice, nagging him on the phone about his kids and a home renovation project. Yes, my wife got a number of elbows on her arm during all of this.

In the same hotel, Scarlett Johansson is staying, the wife of an American photogapher who claims to love her but is always running off to do another job, or to hang out with a ditzy LA-based blonde singer/actress who can't sing or act. Johansson spends most of the early parts of the film hanging out in her room in her underwear; I'd blame this on the prurience of the director, except the director is a woman, Sonia Coppola, Francis' daughter, who also directed the unusual film "The Virgin Suicides". This one is her first major commercial release, and it's a great success.

Murray and Johansson, who are supposed to be fiftyish and twenty-fiveish in the film, have an even greater age difference in life (Murray is 53, Johansson only 18 - her first major film role was as the daughter in "The Horse Whisperer"), yet they pull off this unlikely love story, which has no nudity (except for a weird scene in a strip club) and no sex, not even implied, between them. Yet they have an unmistakeable bond throughout, two lonely people who find each other, find common ground not only to have fun but to share some of their innermost thoughts. A single touch by Murray says more than an hour's worth of words could.

Are they in love? Maybe. But it really doesn't matter -- they need, they want, and they share, and at the end of the film... well, I won't ruin it, but it does redeem itself after a couple of discordant moments. The only criticism I'd have is that at times, it moves very slowly; Murray plays Harris with an absolute deadpan look. It's hard to tell what kind of actor "Bob Harris" even is, and maybe it doesn't matter. Johansson's character has great depth, so much so you find yourself wondering why she married the goofy photographer in the first place.

Having been to Tokyo three years ago I can tell you that the film's depiction of life for expatriate Americans there is quite accurate; they not only get the sights but the feelings right, and it brought back many happy memories for me.

And if nothing else, go see this film to see a karaoke scene in which Johansson is a dead ringer for Debbie Harry of Blondie, complete with pink wig, and Murray sings Elvis Costello's "What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love & Understanding". Hilarious.

AYRating: ***