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The Last Life in the Universe (15)



Review by: Jack Foley | Rating: Two

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 Ratanaruang’s 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 children’s book he once saw someone reading.

His only connection with normality stems from his relationship with Sinitta Boonyasak’s 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 sister’s 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 appreciate.

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.

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