Story: Kenji (Tadanobu Asano) works in a Japanese library in Bangkok. His life is all about books. Therefore
he is a very quite and solitary person. All of his numerous suicide attempts fail, since he has not the courage to
kill himself or he is disturbed when he tries to do so over and over again. The only one who keeps him company every
now and then is his brother. However, his brother doesn't help him to get out of his misery. One day Kenji's brother brings a
friend to Kenji's home, who suddenly turns out to be a hitman. The end result of this situation is that Kenji has
two dead bodies in his flat.
Trying to kill himself again, this time on a bridge, Kenji watches Noi (Sinitta Boonyasak) and her sister Nid (Laila Boonyasak) argue over something as Nid gets overrun by a car. Noi looks for consolation and Kenji can't return to his home, since there are two corpses lying around. So he asks Noi if he can live at her place for a while. The girl doesn't mind and with time it seems that the two, despite their communication problems, complement each other very well.
These two lonely people slowly start to realize that they are connected by something and Kenji suddenly believes that maybe there is a meaning of life. However, Noi goes to Japan in a few days and Kenji can't go with her...
Review: Since "3-Iron" no Art-House-cinema could move me like the story of Kenji and Noi. This Thai
movie (co-produced by Japan) proves that Thailand does not only provide Tony Jaa Fans with "masterpieces". Director
Pen-Ek Ratanaruang shows that he is a forerunner of profound cinema from Thailand and hopefully he will find some
imitators who will widen this development in the Thai film industry.
"Last Life in the Universe" is an almost meditative and dreamy movie about the meaning of life, loneliness and love. The love story fortunately is everything but cheesy and inspires with its subtle and profound acting of the two main actors. This way the movie succeeds in what many other works fail to achieve, namely to be touching and sincere at the same time.
Tadanobu Asano is the familiar face in the movie, which is supplemented by a few other well-known actors. In a cameo role there is even Takashi Miike as a yakuza to be seen! Look out for him at the end.
Asano plays Kenji, an eccentric young man, who has a morbid sense for order and tidiness, has a gigantic collection of books in his home and whose avocation it is to kill himself. Naturally, he never manages to actually die. Here one of the movie's strong points shows: the humour. Because even though it is used in a subtle manner and with care, it still always hits the right notes and delivers some great scenes, e.g. when Noi finds Kenji lying behind/under her car and asks him what he's doing there. Of course he just tries to kill himself again...
But why does he wish to die? Plain simple: for him there is no meaning of life, anymore. Here the parable about a lizard in the form of a children's book or the title of the movie itself comes into play. Kenji is lonely.
The observant viewer will get a lot of information out of the movie which are only to be found between the lines. So it seems that Kenji went to Bangkok with his brother because he wanted to escape the triads. Most likely he even was one of them himself. Just take a look at his tattoo on his back.
You also shouldn't belittle the performance of Sinitta Boonyasak, who is an excellent partner for Asano, keeping him company in his loneliness. It seems that she, like her sister, has a job in an escort service agency, however, she wants to flee her momentary life which is depicted by her love for smoking weed.
The scenes between her and Kenji are almost magical and this although there are no long dialogues, which makes it more important and zestful to read between the lines. Yet, despite the movie's tranquil nature you don't need to worry that there is only silence between the two main actors as it would be typical for a Kim Ki-duk film for example. On the contrary, Noi is someone who likes to talk. This is something she is forced to do in broken English, as Kenji has to, because she can only speak a few words Japanese and he knows almost no Thai. Nevertheless, there is a wonderful chemistry between the two.
Ratanaruang really seems to like blending together reality and fiction. It's not always obvious if a scene is just a product of Kenji's imagination, for example when Noi sits next to him dressed in her sister's school uniform, or if it's reality we are part of. Even when the two finally spend the night together, this is only implied by Noi's sentence "You smell. Take a bath.", while she sits next to him dressed only in underwear. The viewer has a lot to interpret, especially concerning the end. Nonetheless, this isn't frustrating at all. Eventually, it all makes sense, the movie has several layers which should be interpreted and you also get the time to do so.
"Last Life in the Universe" is like it is fitting for a movie like this, very quite and dreamy. Some people will be bothered by the slow pacing, but actually this only adds to the film's great atmosphere. However, there is also very good unobtrusive humour, which is about Kenji's numerous unsuccessful attempts to kill himself, but for example is also to be seen in a very nice hint, in which a cut is made to a library where we see a poster of "Ichi The Killer". A movie in which Tadanobu Asano also played the main lead!
The movie is full of beautiful pictures, that are imbued with an almost meditative style. The director knows how to bestow his movie with the necessary credibility and Christopher Doyle ("Hero") behind the camera is responsible for the right pictures. I still can't describe what it is, that makes Doyle's pictures so magical, but maybe that's exactly part of his magic.
Also very fitting is the dream-away score by Hualongpong Riddim, that takes you on a journey into a world of loneliness and hope.
"Last Life in the Universe" has a melancholic-heartwarming tense atmosphere and two actors, who alway manage to imbue their complex characters with the right emotions. Pen-Ek Ratanaruang creates a highlight of the romantic drama genre and does so withough sticking to old formulas. We instantly get drawn into his world. The mindful viewer will have twice as much fun with the movie and especially the open end is very good, because it summarizes the movie's whole atmosphere: bitter-sweet and full of hope.
If you don't mind that you will get a minimalistic story told with a slow pacing, then this character-exploring, reflective and multi-layered masterpiece will definitely charm you.