Last Life in the Universe

Last Life in the Universe

Last Life in the Universe

directed by Pen-ek Ratanaruang

starring Asano Tadanobu, Sinitta Boonyasak, Miike Takashi

Palm Pictures

Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s Last Life in the Universe was shot by visionary cinematographer Christopher Doyle. Doyle, whose previous work has included Hero, Chungking Express and In the Mood For Love among others, is a master at capturing space and color on film and he doesn’t disappoint with Last Life. Working closely with Pen-ek, he’s created a movie that’s built of rhythm and structure rather than plot.

At its core, the film is Asia’s answer to Lost in Translation. Set against the backdrop of Bangkok, Thailand, Kenji (Asano Tadanobu), a reserved, obsessive compulsive, Japanese transplant becomes haphazardly entangled with Noi (Sinitta Boonyasak), a Thai girl who’s planning to move to Osaka. The two are seeking solace because of personal tragedies: Noi, because her sister was recent killed in a car accident, while Kenji’s reason remains unknown. The relationship between the two is an interesting one because of the language barrier –Kenji only knows a handful of Thai phrases and Noi has been studying Japanese, but is no means fluent. As a result, they turn to English as common ground, but since it’s still a second or third langauge for both of them their conversations are very stilted and basic. The bond that develops between them is brought to life simply by being there for each other, by inhabiting the same physical space. The joy of the film comes from the casual reconciliation of the plot’s disparate events –including subplots involving Thai gangsters and gonzo filmmaker Miike Takashi as a Japanese yakuza. The quiet journey Kenji takes and the development of his character are brought about not only by his friendship with Noi, but through the change of his surroundings.

The heart of the film takes place at Noi’s shambolic country house. The aesthetic clash between Kenji’s usual obsessive order and cleanliness and the sheer decrepitude of the house is the first step toward dealing with his phobias and confidence inadequacies. Doyle and Pen-ek use the house to great effect, employing a wide variety of shots of parts of the house as punctuation, not only to close or open scenes, but also to act as an ellipses, to show a brief passage of time or a slight change in subject or tone. The two give Noi’s house so much character and sway over the trajectory of the film that it becomes the movie’s third most important character. Thanks to Doyle’s command of style it works beautifully.

In both the included interview with Pen-ek and Doyle’s feature commentary, the filmmakers asserts that if it is done right, the form of a movie will preclude any potential questions an audience will have about continuity and coherence. Last Life in the Universe exists as cobbled together snippets of both dramatic and mundane events for the main characters to wander through, interspersed with shots of tattered curtains rising in a gust of wind or aerial shots of a disused swimming pool. It’s these smallest details that end up being the most important in defining for both the characters in the film and the audience watching them.

Palm Pictures:

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked with *

Cancel reply

Recently on Ink 19...

  • Eddie Izzard
    Eddie Izzard

    The cross-dressing comic returned to Memphis with history, philosophy, and plenty of laughs.

  • Gary Wittner
    Gary Wittner

    Too Modern for Me. (Invisible Music Records) Review by Stacey Zering.

  • Willard Gayheart & Friends
    Willard Gayheart & Friends

    At Home in the Blue Ridge (Blue Hens Music). Review by Carl F. Gauze.

  • Alex McArtor
    Alex McArtor

    Touch/Are You Alone (Bigmac Records). Review by Stacey Zering.

  • Superstar

    Sex, drugs, adultery, murder and finally, redemption – it’s all intertwined in the tale of Trent Davis, the “star” of author Christopher Long‘s latest, Superstar.

  • Moloko Plus
    Moloko Plus

    Moloko Plus is a monthly experimental music event in Orlando, Florida.

  • General Magic
    General Magic

    General Magic invented the smart phone in 2002, but just couldn’t get it to market. That’s just how they rolled.

  • Blue October
    Blue October

    Alternative 90s rockers Blue October rolled into Central Florida for a two-night run at House of Blues, and Michelle Wilson was blown away.

  • Pahokee

    Pahokee produces sugar cane and poverty, but some the brighter students might make it to the big time with a college degree and a new zip code.

  • Sumo Princess
    Sumo Princess

    When An Electric Storm. (Educational Recordings) Review by Bob Pomeroy.

From the Archives