Over time, I’ve come to realize that I really do approach a film as a motion picture, or rather, a series of moving pictures. A movie can be filled with wild action, soulful acting, incisive social commentary, etc., but all I remember when I leave the theater or turn off the TV are disconnected images: a man in love, twirling his umbrella in a torrential downpour; a warrior pursuing a girl with a sword across treetops, their feet hardly touching the boughs; the running lights from a spaceship flickering across an old sage’s face as he watches his pupil fly off to discover himself. If you ask me about movies I’ve seen, I usually can’t give you anything more than vague mumblings about what colors were in them, because that’s all that sticks with me.


Lost in Translation is a sweet fishes-out-of-water romance: Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson do great jobs with their roles, and Sofia Coppola gives Japan much better than the aren’t-the-Japanese-just-so-wacky treatment that it normally receives. But what really struck me while I watched it was the way that so many scenes were framed like still photographs or home video. Shots are all very composed, and the camera rarely moves unless it’s in a car. It could have easily been made as a photo essay or a slideshow instead of a movie, with the dialogue delivered through captions or through the various closeups on Johansson’s fragile cheekbones and Murray’s drooping jowls. The many montages in which the two wander the streets of Tokyo, alone or together, had a particularly odd effect on me. It almost felt as if I were looking at a bunch of postcards they had sent me during their trip, which had been stalled in the mail and delivered to me all at once. I actually found myself looking at the scenes and missing the people I saw in them, even though I only knew them for a few minutes.

Now I’ve just slipped the disc back into its red envelope, and I’m already forgetting what the events in the movie were. It was something about jet lag, right? All I’ll remember in the morning is Johannson drifting, perplexed, through an arcade full of rhythm games; Murray, exhausted, staring out the window of a taxi and watching brightly lit streets flash by; the two of them walking into a nightclub, escaping their fears of fun, dancing amidst fireworks projected onto big balloons. For me, that’s enough: stories come and go, but mise-en-scene lasts forever.