Having established herself as more than an heiress of nepotism with "The Virgin Suicides," Sofia Coppola shot for the sky with her second feature-length film, "Lost in Translation," which hits select theaters Friday (September 12).
Starring Bill Murray and 18-year-old Scarlett Johansson ("Ghost World"), "Lost in Translation" tells the story of two Americans who are stuck in Tokyo and forge an unlikely connection over their parallel life crises and their alienation in a foreign country. Murray plays an aging actor forced to act as a corporate shill in the Japanese market, and Johansson is the wife of a flighty photographer (Giovanni Ribisi) who is hired to shoot a rock band. Through their own separate estrangements, the two form an affectionate and sympathetic relationship that can't be fulfilled.
"These [characters] are at two different points in their lives," Coppola said. "It's always romantic to me when people can't be together. There's this huge age difference, but I think you can have romantic friendships that aren't physical. It's not your typical 'older man, younger woman' kind of romance."
The filmmaker, whose father is venerable director Francis Ford Coppola ("The Godfather"), wrote the movie for Murray and nearly threw in the towel when her intended star was reticent to take the part. After enlisting the help of her friend Wes Anderson (who directed Murray in "Rushmore" and "The Royal Tenenbaums") to coax the actor, Murray finally agreed. "I can't think of anyone [else] that would have been [right for] the part," Coppola said. "I didn't want to make the movie without him. So I was relieved that he showed up."
She also lured reclusive My Bloody Valentine founder Kevin Shields into the studio to help score the film. Shields, who only recently came out of hiding to record and tour with Primal Scream, contributes four new songs to the movie — his first original offerings since My Bloody Valentine's 1991 swan song, Loveless.
"Loveless is one of my favorite records," said Coppola, who enlisted French pop duo Air to compose the distinctive "Virgin Suicides" soundtrack. "We showed [Kevin] some scenes, and he's so sensitive that he really understood the feeling I wanted — that heartbreaking, melancholic [feeling]. [It's like] when you have a crush on someone it's terrible, but at the same time great, [and] I think his music has that quality."
With only 27 days to shoot, Murray and Johansson had little time to rehearse and faced the challenge of generating both awkwardness and chemistry in a short period of time. Coppola worked around this by filming the movie chronologically. "I planned it [so that] when the characters were just meeting each other, [the actors] were just meeting each other [for the first time], and then I [scheduled] the more intimate scenes later on, after they had gotten to know each other. I think that helped."
The hurried schedule, combined with a modest budget and some jetlag, enhanced the sense that everyone was living the movie they were creating. "[We] found ourselves in situations like the story — shooting in Tokyo and not being able to speak the language with a local crew," Coppola explained. "There were a lot of moments where we were like, 'Oh my God, it's lost in translation.' "