by Allan Fish
(USA 2003 106m) DVD1/2
So much ‘More Than This’
p Ross Katz, Sofia Coppola d/w Sofia Coppola ph Lance Acord ed Sarah Flack m Kevin Shields art Anne Ross, K.K.Barrett cos Nancy Steiner
Bill Murray (Bob Harris), Scarlett Johansson (Charlotte), Giovanni Ribisi (John), Anna Faris (Kelly), Fumihiro Hayashi,
Sofia Coppola’s fresh and funny masterpiece is that rarest of beasts; a film that plays with convention in a witty and original way and comes up fresh every time you see it. A film that is not merely about Japanese customs, Tokyo or indeed going to any foreign places, as these are merely the outer levels. At its lovely heart is a story of fate and being in the right place at the wrong time. Or just about the power of unlikely friendships and how a single night can alter your life.
The plot itself – young philosophy graduate accompanying her photographer husband to Tokyo befriends a middle aged ex-Hollywood star in town to shoot a whisky commercial and catch up with his drinking – is secondary to Coppola’s observant eye. From its opening shot it tantalises, with its camera all but embracing Johannson’s transparent pink-pantied behind (and it was her, not a body double). At first it may seem voyeuristic, but it’s a shot that like the film speaks volumes. A run of the mill May-September romance would normally lead to the obvious horizontal place, but though these characters share a bed, it’s merely to lie upon, while they drink, chat and flick through junk TV channels. That it never does lead to the obvious place is a testament to Coppola’s faith in not only Tokyo’s charm and in her own characters, but in her actors. Murray is quite magnificent as Bob, ambling from scene to scene with a perpetually fed-up expression faintly reminiscent of a subdued Alex Higgins, who only comes alive around his young companion. Many of his culture shock scenes make you cringe, but they’re hilarious; Murray in his hotel watching his old movies dubbed into Japanese as a crazy woman enters and asks him to “lip her stocking!”; Murray impersonating Roger Moore on cue on a bar stool (“I don’t get this close to the glass until I’m on the floor”); Murray opening his Fedex parcel of carpet swatches from his wife; and his embarrassed appearance on a TV show hosted by the Japanese answer to Graham Norton. It’s a truly great performance, but one more than matched by Johansson. After impressing in Ghost World, The Man Who Wasn’t There and Girl With a Pearl Earring, we finally have the real deal, an intelligent, real young woman; a performance all the more remarkable in that she was only eighteen at the time of shooting, convincingly in her early twenties. Unlike the ultra-thin airhead starlets of the day (personified by Anna Faris’ Kelly), she’s unafraid of having real curves and dressing how she likes. She’s all the more gorgeous for that and Coppola knows it, allowing the camera to drown in her unique beauty and dry intelligence. She’s stultified in a marriage she has come to loathe and just wants an escape, which is just what Murray presents her with; “I’m trying to organise a prison break, and I’m looking for an accomplice.” He’s no longer sitting as if petrified on his bed in dressing gown and slippers, he’s turning his garish shirts inside out, singing (or should that be making noise) in one of many Tokyo karaoke bars and falling in love, not so much with Johansson herself, but her spirit. Their official goodbye gives way to an impromptu final meeting in the crowded streets where Murray hugs her and whispers something inaudible in her ear. We don’t need to hear, of course, for it allows us to make our own minds up. Everything that needs saying is said by Johansson’s expressive tearful face.
Though Murray and Johansson are very much the soul of the film, they really are only Coppola’s voices, for it’s her acute observation that permeates every beautiful shot (courtesy of Lance Acord’s wonderful cinematography) of her billet doux to the craziest city on earth. If Murray may look like he’s been places, Johansson and Coppola are most definitely on the move. Nor will you be able to hear a certain song by Roxy Music the same way again. Make it Suntory time.