-By Lewis Beale

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Set in Tokyo, Sofia Coppola's second feature, Lost in Translation, stars Bill Murray as Bob Harris, a fading Hollywood star who has arrived in Japan to make a very lucrative whiskey commercial. Filled with career angst and concerns about his marriage, he spends most of his off time channel-surfing in his room or drinking at the hotel bar.

One night while drinking, Bob meets Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson), a twenty-something who has tagged along after her photographer husband (Giovani Ribisi), in town to shoot rock groups. He seems more interested in his work than his beautiful, brainy wife, and after two years of marriage she is questioning their relationship.

The duo soon strike up a friendship based as much on emotional need as the fact that they are strangers in a very alien city. Soon they are hanging out together, going to private parties and karaoke bars, watching movies in his hotel room and discussing their lives.

Although a small character piece, everything about Lost in Translation is world-class. Coppola's script is subtle and smart, mixing equal parts comedy, drama and romance with consummate skill. She has managed to draw a performance from Murray that is his best yet, outshining even the outstanding work he did in Groundhog Day and Rushmore. And in Johansson she has found a young actress who convincingly plays older and more mature than her age (in real life, she's only 18), while exhibiting excellent chemistry with her leading man.

Best of all, Coppola has not gone for the clichd plot option (attention: spoiler coming)--the lead characters do not sleep with each other, and at the end of the film, will probably never see one another again. Lost in Translation is simply, and winningly, about fast friendships, emotional connections and the wisdom that can be imparted from the old to the young, and vice versa. It's almost Jamesian in its psychological truths.

Give Coppola credit. Following her disastrous stab at acting in The Godfather Part III, she has shown that directing is definitely her forte. Her first film, The Virgin Suicides, was a fine and fearless stab at a very difficult project. Now, with Lost in Translation, her skills have matured even further. This is an excellent sophomore effort.

-Lewis Beale

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