Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Interviews with Pen-ek Ratanaruang
Christopher Doyle, Sinitta & Laila Boonyasak, producer Nonzee
Nimibutr & production designer Saksiri Chuntarangsri; Behind
the scenes featurette; Theatrical trailer; Filmographies.
THE strangeness of peoples emotional bonds forms the basis
for Pen-ek Ratanaruangs surreal movie, The Last Life in
the Universe, a slow, but absorbing tale, which just about stays
the right side of entertaining.
Tadanobu Asano stars as quietly-spoken librarian, Kenji, who,
when not attempting to commit suicide using whatever instrument
is at his disposal, begins to identify with the last lizard
on earth, a character in a childrens book
he once saw someone reading.
His only connection with normality stems from his relationship
with Sinitta Boonyasaks Thai-bar girl, Noi, whose sister
has recently been killed in a car accident, and who Kenji, himself,
possessed feelings for, but she is planning to emigrate to Japan,
and is winding down her existence in a semi-derelict house near
Pattaya, just outside of Bangkok.
To make matters a little more complicated, Kenji seems somehow
connected to a dangerous past, as revealed by the full-back yakuza
tattoo concealed by his shirt, and his curious friendship with
another mob member, who eventually winds up being killed by an
accomplice in his apartment.
Yet Kenji is someone who seems constantly
to be running - from a past, from the Mob, and from his own sense
of reality, while the line between truth and fiction is another
thing which becomes increasingly blurred the longer the film runs.
As such, there are times when proceedings become too existential
for their own good, while the deliberately ponderous pacing frequently
threatens to test viewers patience.
Ratanaruang likes to draw out his sequences, and requires his
audience to do a certain amount of work, although his obvious
visual flair, and his penchant for black humour, make the film
worth seeing, especially for the art-house crowd.
In the lead role, Asano provides a suitably solitary figure,
who succeeds in intriguing you more than conjuring any sympathy
(largely because he is too detached from humanity at times), while
Boonyasak does much to compensate, providing an alluring presence,
tinged with the sadness of her sisters recent demise. She
gives the movie its heartbeat and its grounding in reality.
The occasional nods towards the Japanese underworld, and other
movies within that genre, such as Iichi The Killer, tantalise
with the promise of what might follow, particularly when Takaski
Miike crops up, late on, as a vengeful hitman, but this is first,
and foremost, a movie that wants to explore emotions, and given
that they are usually unspoken, requires a lot of work to fully
Strange, quirky but certainly fascinating, The Last Life in the
Universe may, ultimately, leave you with mixed feelings, but is
certainly worth venturing into for anyone who likes to keep things
away from the mainstream for a while.