I was given this film as a birthday present video about 10 years ago. I remember thinking it underwhelming. I ended up losing it (the woman who’d given it got lost too)
In the subsequent years since the film has acquired a cultish cache. So I’ve given it another whirl to see if I might like it better now.
I kind if did. But only kind of.
The best thing in the film is Scarlet Johansson. This was her transition into serious adult films. A 19 year old playing a 25 year old with an old weary head on. A neglected wife who can’t really connect to her young photographer husbands trite pop band and celebrity lifestyle (because she’s a philosophy graduate and too smart for all that nonsense) But she’s here in Japan, hanging on, hanging around, with nothing much to do. Feeling increasingly lethargic, despondent, lost.
In her hotel is Bill Murray. A faded and jaded A-List actor shooting a whisky commercial. He can’t understand these weirdo Japanese with their smiley cheesiness and crackpot inanity. But he’s getting paid 2 million bucks so what the fuck, he’ll cheese his smile back with all the lack of sincerity he can be bothered to muster. He’s just playing the game. But bored by it. And bored by himself being bored by it. Would want to get out of this fatuously irritating Japan, this Tokyo trite life.
So Bill’s dissatisfied and Scarlet’s dissatisfied. And they’ve gradually slid up to one another, to syphon off some existential ennui together, share in and slip out of their listless lostness.
We’re meant to see this as the conjoining of two alienated souls into one elective affinity. Dispirited spirits becoming attached to one another. The consolation of shared self-awareness, the solace of ironic displacement found in the others knowing gaze.
I kind of believed in their platonic attraction. It felt like a credible connection. Why can’t a 50 something man and a 20 something girl find in one another the same kind of ironic detachment, share in the same kind of estrangement and loss of identity? Scarlet isn’t a kid. She’s got watchful, wary eyes. Her presence is poised and calmly composed. She has a restful serenity about her that belies her age. Shes a maturing presence. She becomes as old as old Bill is. Here is a little clip I like – because it evokes the whole detached mood of the film for me – of Scarlet sat watching over the vast metropolis of Tokyo
Music by Squarepusher. I had edited some of my own clips of the film but can’t be bothered now to upload them (shows I’m not quite as into this film as I’m trying to be)
Gradually, Scarlet seems to be getting into a bit of Big Daddy projection with old Bill. And he’s trying to desist and resist. This becomes the central implicit tension driving the narrative. Is he going to? Are they going to? Will they be going to – go anywhere? I didn’t want them to. Lets not have this great romantic loved up ending. But it kind of happened. At the end he had to go running after in the street, and they have to do the Goodbye Kiss. But at least theres something of an open ending left over (what did he whisper into her ear?) They can’t really be getting together though. That would be too much like every dirty old mans perfect fantasy. Sofia Coppola – the director – isn’t going to allow that to happen (is she?) Lets get real here guys!
So I’ve been buying into the off-romance ambivalence between Bill and Scarlet. But I didn’t like Sofia Coppola’s American take on Non-American ‘foreign’ culture. The mickey-mockery of little jappy Japs is gross; who’d have thought they ken nat talko Ingliss plopelly (“lip my stockin” anybody?) I mean, this karaoke culture is stupit wight? If this ridicule was meant as parody it struck the wrong note (for me) Satire requires more subtly and intelligence than farcical pandering to caricature and cliché. It just felt like facile racist stereotyping going on. Too contemptous, way too condescending. Sofia Coppola makes Tokyo seem like the most vacuous place on earth – and its Japanese occupants the most inane people in it. It wasn’t funny.
Would I watch this film a 3rd time? I doubt it. In fact I’ve already deleted it from my hard-drive. But of course if my next girlfriend buys it me as a birthday present I’d probably watch it with her.
Dir : Sofia Coppola, USA