Such a beautifully poignant, sweet and phenomenally masterful film that blooms in its nature of gently wallowing in melancholia, in exploring the romantic touches of insomnia and in showcasing the bright lights of Tokyo as a starkly different world to one many are used to.
An American star, Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is away from his family while working for a Whisky company in Tokyo, the complete change in lifestyle in this city brings about insomnia, boredom and his worries of home concerning the lack of love in his marriage. A chance encounter at the hotel bar with Charlotte (Scarlett Johansson) who is fearing her own marriage is not as strong as it could be, leads to many more bar conversations and outings in the thriving city, where they start to become closer and see their lives leading down a better more interesting path than before.
Sofia Coppola writes and directs with an eye for capturing the disconcerting sights of this Japanese city but balances this culture shock for the main characters with some light comedic strokes and endearing real travellings of the heart. The way in which the language barrier constantly hits makes for laughs as Bob Harris feels the lengthy Japanese is revealing more about his acting than the translator says. It’s this and the sometimes frenzied over eager approaches of Harris’ welcome party that shock him into this strange new place. This is set apart with Charlotte’s view of the city as she sees the more serene side of life taking in temples, monks and gorgeous gardens on her lone sightseeing trips. The dialogue itself is charming and utterly believable as you are willingly made to fall for the likeability factor shared by the two leads. There’s an instant rapport between them and you understand that they just click, their adventures or sometime misadventures make for the endearing journeys of the characters as they progress with not only each other but themselves. Coppola manages to bring comedy into the mix too with the fun problems the two face in this city. There’s the brilliant whisky advertising shoot and advert filming that is on the nose funny. The two of them also seeing through Kelly (Anna Faris) as an annoying up herself actress is comedy that connects them further. It’s a slight comedy that works in the alien like backdrop of a city that the characters and like myself, probably a lot of people haven’t seen in the flesh.
The backing score is lilting and perhaps ethereal at times. It represents the eye opening behaviour of seeing Tokyo with wonder really well. There’s a simple magic quality to the music and it helps us as the audience fall into a spell seeing this energetic new city unfold as the characters explore it. It’s a very romantic sounding soundtrack that works in setting up the mood of this movie. The diegetic sounds of house jazz in the hotel bar is a constant tool to ground the hotel setting in believable status and subtly introduce a character into the plot without knowing their true importance until later on. The bluesy style takes on the songs help add to the dreamy sense of this place also.
Bill Murray is just marvellous as the often bewildered, tired yet warm Bob. It’s a great role and a greater performance as he becomes kindly fun and childlike when he needs to and then reverts back to that Murray gaze of stoney faced boredom when called for in the story. You can’t help but feel for him as his wife calls leading you to learn there’s no spark left and that she seems happy he’s so far away. Scarlett Johansson is stunning and embracing as the college graduate trying to find herself. There’s a twinkle in her eye yet a vulnerability etched across her face now and then and it makes for a deeper character and performance. The two of them together are just….wow. That’s honestly how I’ll sell it as they just fit together. The young and the old, the fun and the wise, they help each other and enjoy each others company and it’s so enjoyable watching them both.
There’s only the small niggle of the film taking a while to find itself which is ironic but there is a slow start before anything interesting really gets the attention and keeps hold of it, but once Johansson and Murray meet and start talking the film begins its near mint condition style.
A witty, smart and lovely film that delves into the lost tracks of lives and the closer to the heart loneliness felt by the characters, represented by the bigger template of Tokyo city. A gem of a film with a gem of an ending that feels right, leaving you wanting an answer that you also don’t want as it could spoil the pleasure and power of the story.