Sometimes living a in a certain place can make you a target for "So have you seen X movie?" questions. If the place is Japan, Lost in Translation is as classy a choice as any.
Overall it's a good movie, with talented actors. It's definitely a smart, complex move where you can find a lot of different meanings. It's ambiguous, mostly because everyone seems pretty...lost. The people who know what they want to do are kind of jerks, and the self aware people seem to realize that they aren't really what they want to be. But there no moment of "Now I suddenly know who I am and what I want to do!" or "Now I totally get Japanese culture! Yay!"
So this isn't Ramen Girl. (Which I also really liked.)
But this isn't one of my favorite movies, mostly because the humor was lost on me. Obviously, there's some truth to cultural stereotypes because otherwise there wouldn't be so many movies and jokes about them. But Lost in Translation seemed just mean spirited. Sometimes they're making fun of clueless Americans, sometimes it's weird Japanese people, sometimes it's both, but in none of the cases are the jokes really funny.
Take this exchange: "So why do they mix up the Rs and Ls?" "Oh, just for kicks."
Is it making fun of stupid Americans who expect everyone to sound like them, or stupid Japanese who dare to have Non-American accents in modern society?
It probably sounds really PC to say lines like this make the characters seem like jerks. The "I am too snooty to like any humor that involves people being less than perfectly cultured," attitude.
What bothered me about the movie (besides too many shots of Scarlett Johanson's underwear, and that Bill Murray isn't glamorous) is it didn't seem to allow for the possibility for any non-American person to be sort of, well, normal. It just went for cultural stereotypes (as perceived by ignorant Americans) and stopped there. Maybe that's not the point and there's some other story about finding yourself going on, but it wasn't good enough to make me feel comfortable with the way the setting was portrayed.
Besides that convenience stores are everywhere, I know nothin' 'bout Japan or Tokyo. But I know countries are made up mostly of ordinary people trying to just live their lives. Lost in Translation might have missed it, but there's quite a few normal people in Japan.