After the success of The Virgin Suicides for her follow up Sofia Coppola drew inspiration from her father filming a real Suntory whiskeycommercial with Akira Kurosawa in the 1970’s as she crafts a tale which is not only a love letter to Tokyobut also one of two lost souls in a city were neither of them speak the language while generally confounded by the world around them leaving them to dwell on their own personal issues. Certainly it’s hardly the sort of film you would expect to turn into a huge hit for Coppola not only with critics but more surprisingly with the general movie going audiences who for some reason really warmed to the film.
Writing the film with Bill Murray in mind, Coppola was so set on him taking the role that she even considered scrapping the film if he turned it down. Murray however had replaced his talent agency with an automated voice mailbox with a number that he reportedly only gives out sparingly. However thanks to her friend and frequent Murray-collaborator Wes Anderson she managed to get the number and set about bombarding his mailbox with messages before he finally called her back to discuss the film. Even when he agreed to star in the film it was only a verbal confirmation and Anderson assuring her that he was a man of his word and would turn up which much to her relief when he landed in Tokyo the week before filming commenced.
Here Murray really gives a more is less performance and the kind which he’s seemingly been trying to recapture since and while it’s a departure from his usual comedic style marking arguably on his second dramatic performance but it’s one which really works here, especially when Coppola’s script allows for a large amount of improvisation especially during scenes such as the photoshoot which have a great flow to them. At the same time he carries with the character a real world weary sense to him as he takes this commercial perhaps seeing it as one of the few remaining opportunities to cash in on his rapidly fading star, if not aswell to escape his equally problematic home life as he deals with constant faxes from his wife about her decorating plans for his office, while she clearly has no grasp on how time zones work.
Seeing a “Young Lauren Bacall-type girl” in Scarlett Johansson here effortlessly makes her transition into an adult actor as she is approaching her own lost situation as the opposite end of the spectrum being newly graduated and now facing a loss of direction as her friends are grounded with kids, while her husband John (Ribishi) is so wrapped up in his work that he doesn’t really notice his wife’s needs, leaving her in the hotel room were she passes the time attempting to make the room more of a home, doing her make up and casual smoking. Of course this ethereal like presence that Charlotte has is really the sort of the character that Johansson really excels at playing.
While there are more than a few critics including Coppola herself who see this as a romantic movie the film never feels like that kind of film as here we are given a film which is as much of a travelogue with Sofia working in her favourite Tokyo locations as it is just a film about two strangers finding a surprising friendship out of a chance meeting. This in turn makes it far from the easiest film to sell people on as it’s a film essentially about two people having conversations and visiting interesting places and that’s about it. There are no dramatic plot lines, villainous characters or obstacles to over come apart from the ones which have seemingly caused them to find themselves in the rut they initially find themselves in.
Reuniting with Cinematographer Lance Accord who she worked with on her first short film Lick The Star and here really helps Coppola capture the magic and spirit of Tokyo as she showcases the blending of tradition with pop culture as the film takes in shrines and panoramic views from hotel rooms which are blended with the street level view as Bob and Charlotte visit hip night clubs and karaoke bars as it feels that Coppola is trying to work in as many elements of this city she love so much. The decision to shoot on film only adds to this experience despite her father pushing her to shoot digital believing it to be the future. Here by choosing to go against his advice the film really retains that surreal like quality and warmth that digital struggles to retain.
Even now this remains a fiercely original vision and unquestionably the film which marked her out as a director of note rather than just being the daughter of her famous father. Even now it’s a film which has really been replicated despite the efforts of the Mumblecore movement.