By Nicholas Fonseca
February 13, 2004 at 05:00 AM EST
Lost in Translation: Yoshio Sato
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It is a universal truth that hotels, despite an ersatz veneer of here-to-please-you hospitality, are among the loneliest places in the world. Sofia Coppola understands this isolation, and she exploits it to stunning effect in her second film, Lost in Translation.

There are many reasons this languorous look at the insta-friendship formed in Japan between two Americans had critics and audiences swooning. Chief among them is that Coppola (who also wrote the screenplay) never panders to the inherent Lolitaness of her story. Middle-aged Bob (Bill Murray) meets cute with depressed twentysomething Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) in the Tokyo Park Hyatt lounge. They make tentative conversation about whatever it is — insomnia, boredom, restlessness — that might bind them together for just a few more minutes, or at least until last call.

In lesser movies, this leads to the inevitable, and Murray concurs in the disc’s slim bonus features, which include a making-of video and a 10-minute ”conversation” between himself and Coppola. In films of this ilk, he says, ”People either have an affair or they turn on each other.” Here, though, the two simply embark on a week-long odyssey through the streets of Tokyo, hitting strip clubs, sushi joints, karaoke parties — and forging a strangely powerful bond that neither seems able to explain.

And when they finally do fall into bed? It’s everything you’d expect from the endearing odd couple. No heavy breathing, no whispered nothings, not even sex… just Bob’s hand on Charlotte’s foot as he discusses marriage and parenthood and, in his indirect way, expresses his fondness for the onetime stranger nestled beside him. ”Lost in Translation” stands on its own as a valentine to the mysteries of attraction; scenes like this elevate it into the realm of piercing romances that truly have something to say about the human heart.

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