Films have an advantage over stories told in literature, music or theater because the first frame visually sets up the narrative for the audience. There have been iconic beginnings throughout the history of film; who can forget the jarring introduction to "Citizen Kane"- a shot of Kane's castle "Xanadu" in the dark, the camera lingering on a sign saying "No trespassing" and the camera keeps moving until the audience sees a silhouette of a dying man on a bed. A good introduction to any film sets up the initial dramatic situation in a number of minutes, drawing us into the characters we are to follow.
Likewise, a good ending of the film provides a true conclusion to the film but also has the purpose of leaving the audience with recognition of change or to tie up the story and the characters with an overarching theme. For example, "The Godfather" has one of the most iconic, if not the most iconic movie ending of all time. After lying to Kay, Michael remains in his father's den. Kay looks at Michael at the camera assumes Kate's point of view. Someone closes the door and the last thing Kay, and the audience sees is a man kissing Michael's hand calling him "Don Corlelone" solidifying his role as the head of the crime gang and also leaving more innocent life, symbolized by Kay, shut out. The ending of "The Godfather", is perfect because it gives an ending to the plot but also provides a visual metaphor for Michael's transformation.
In the film "Lost in Translation", two Americans played by Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson are in Tokyo: Murray plays an aging actor with a million dollar contract to sponsor a Japanese whiskey while Johansson portrays a young woman fresh out from college (Yale, to be exact) without a purpose yet and stuck in a frustratingly dysfunctional marriage. Both of them meet in a bar in Tokyo and embark on a short but profound friendship which profoundly affects them in their own ways.
The narrative is divided evenly between Murray's character, Bob, and Johansson's character, Charlotte and, as such, the each character receives their own introduction and result in the audience empathizing with them.
"Lost In Translation" opens with a soft focus of Scarlett Johansson's presumably, sleeping figure. The shot lasts for about a minute and the frame capture's Johannson's mid section all the way to about her knees with her buttocks in the center of the frame. The shot is supposed to be voyeuristic-the audience only sees the lower half of Johansson's character. Even more so, a thin piece of tight pink cloth barely covers Johansson's rear end, no doubt drawing the audience to full attention. But, this shot is not meant to be sexual, in fact far from it. Coppola, wisely chooses to put a provocative shot- a lying picture of a semi-nude female, in a total non-sexual context. Charlotte is sleeping or resting and the audience has no choice but to be immediately drawn to this character and share one of her most personal moments with her. Its hard to sexualize the seen- the character is seen wearing comfy clothes, her back is to the audience, and she isn't doing anything arousing-she's in fact sleeping. This vulnerability Charlotte shows makes it hard to sexualize her character, and instead lets the audience bond with her as it is the natural instinct to care for a delicate girl. This short, also, perhaps, foreshadows the later scene where Murray's character and Johansson's character lie in bed together, and defy every conventional romantic cliche by not becoming physical with one another and simply just talk. The female figure, the bed, the underwear, usually connotations for sex, are flipped upon its head here and the audience, as Coppola intended, is simply left with a connection to a girl. In this way, Coppola opens up her movie on her terms. She makes it clear that "Lost in Translation" is not going to be a conventional tale about romance, rather, its going to be a study on two people and their relationship with one another.
As the movie focuses, on two people, Coppola also gives Murray's character, Bob, his own introduction. Unlike Charlotte's introduction, Bob introduction appeals more to the average moviegoer and Coppola uses Bob as a lens in which the audience sees his surroundings and empathize with his situation. Before the audience even gets a glimpse of Bob, sounds of an airplane landing sounds softly and female Japanese announcer saying "Welcome to Tokyo" . This sets up Bob's, and the audience's, expectations. The camera then cuts to a shot of Bob sleeping against a taxi window with the glow of the neon lights blurred outside the window with the focus on him. Again, the shot is incredibly voyeuristic because it captures such a vulnerable moment of Bob's life. The camera then cuts to a wide shot of Tokyo as seen from the taxi's perspective and its safe to say that these sights are unlike anything (except, maybe, New York) that can be seen in modern day America. The camera then flips back and forth between being inside the taxi with the focus on Bob and the exterior shots of the Tokyo nightlife from Bob's point of view. A small comedic moment happens when Bob sees his face on a on a poster advertising a whiskey with the text in Japanese and he wipes his own eyes in disbelief. Bob's entrance, unlike Charlotte's, acts as a window for the audience into Japan establishing, more clearly, the dramatic conflict, or at least the setting of the film. Bob's entrance also allows the audience to sympathize more clearly with him that Charlotte, because the audience sees the story unfolding along with Bob making.
The introductions to both characters portray very different but equally profound thematic insights into the film. Charlotte's introduction shows an attraction without sexual objectification while Bob's introduction allows the audience to empathize with him while exploring the setting of the film.
The ending of "Lost in Translation" is utterly sublime. It wraps up most thematic concepts and elevates Bob's and Charlotte's relationship into something real and a true sense of loss and change is felt at the end. "Lost in Translation" introduces many thematic concepts to the audience in a (relatively) short, amount of time: existentialism, aging, love, marriage, philosophy, friendship, xenophobia to name a few. However, the basis of the entire relies on Charlotte's and Bob's relationship and their own personal journey of self actualization while in Japan.
Coppolla, by this point, has enough faith that the audience cares about these two characters which is why she purposely gives a false ending where the pair quickly say goodbye amidst a crowd of strangers. Like most goodbyes, theirs is rushed, awkward but ultimately sincere and one can almost feel Bob's heart drop to the floor as he watches Charlotte descend in an elevator.
Luckily, for him ,and the viewer, the show does go on and Bob catches a glimpse of Charlotte walking in a busy street of Japanese people. Her bright red hair stands out from the crowd of black haired Japanese. Bob's calls out Charlotte and this time, her face envelopes the entire screen letting the audience let out a collective sigh of relief. The camera then cuts to a shot of both of them holding each other in the middle the street, lost in the sea of the others. And the camera cuts in between close ups of each of their faces. Then, Bob whispers something to Charlotte, and the dialogue is muted ever so subtly so that the audience cannot hear what he is saying. The camera cuts to a shot o them further out locked in an embrace cuts again where they let go of each other and Bob walks back to his car and drives away, just like he came in.
The ending of "Lost in Translation" is definitely one of most moving cinematic conclusions of all time. Coppola gives just enough to the audience so that the important themes are reinforced- Bob and Charlotte's relationship, being lost in Tokyo etc but, true to form, leaves out just enough so that the audience believes that the characters are real people and whatever they encountered in Tokyo was their own. It doesn't matter what Bob says to Charlotte at the end of movie. The important thing is that he said it and no one in the world except for Charlotte could hear it. The fact that Copolla muted that line of dialogue completely nullifies the voyeuristic tendencies she introduced in the previous portions of the movie. As the audience, no matter how much we intrude in Bob and Charlotte's life, there are still aspects of them that we don't know and perhaps, we don't need to know in order to fully appreciate their character arch at the end of film. Visually, the ending of the film reinforces the two main characters. The shot of Bob and Charlotte embracing in the middle of the Tokyo street visually summarizes the entire movie. Both characters are in the center of the frame, communicating without words and enjoying each other's company purposefully ignoring the rest of the world passing them by. What they have is ultimate intimacy and affection for another-it's theirs and as the audience, we are just there for the ride.