I described Sofia Coppola's previous effort, The Virgin Suicides as something like a work of poetry. This, her second feature, I am happy to see, continues this deliberate, understated approach.
Bob (Bill Murray) is an American actor in Tokyo to shoot advertisements for a Japanese whiskey, for a very high fee. The film explores, for some time, culture shock - and Tokyo seems just the place for that sort of thing with the American influence that seems to get twisted into something else entirely. Wry observations run from the obvious differences in stature, work habits, the perversion of American culture, especially in music, and wildly different ideas about sex. These moments impart an aura of comedy to the proceedings. There's a tremendous amount of humorous insight here, but the film itself resists any kind of broad classification, other than, perhaps, the cinematic poetry I find in Ms. Coppola's work.
Then slowly the film becomes something else. Bob keeps seeing Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) in the hotel, and they move slowly from nods of recognition to introductions, casual conversations, and friendship. The title turns out to have a second meaning: these two are both lost among a sea of people they cannot connect with. Charlotte has accompanied her photographer husband on a job, but he is busy and almost never in the hotel. They find, in each other, an unlikely but surprisingly meaningful connection. As in real life, where a possible relationship is disallowed or otherwise uncomfortable, the sexual tension between the two is kept under the surface, not even perceptible to each other for their mutual denial, but it's there just the same, stirring up a current of unacknowledged thrills and jealousies. The film finds its home in these spaces of ultimate futility - of being surrounded by a culture that won't accomodate them, and of a relationship that cannot be consummated. The beauty of the film lies in the truths of its observations, and I for one cannot wait to see what else Ms. Coppola chooses to observe in the world.
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