Last Life in the Universe (Thailand/Japan; 112 min.)

directed by: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang
starring: Tadanobu Asano; Sinitta Boonyasak; Laila Boonyasak
Ruang rak noi nid mahasan
Chris says: "Still piecing together this puzzling film, but that alone doesn’t frustrate me. I was so delighted by what perplexed me that I can imagine re-watching it as I did with MULHOLLAND DR., discovering more clues each time out but not being able to fully explain them—and why does everything need a rational explanation? This is a film of moods, sight gags and interior emotions worn inside out, of seeing the Thai shore for the first time and finding unlikely pleasure in cleaning out a sink overloaded with dirty, rotting dishes. One scene where an apartment seemingly clean itself is the most rapturous I’ve seen all year next to the finale of BEFORE SUNSET."
Hilary says: "Christopher Doyle is again at the top of his game: 5 cats for cinematography.

"However, the majority of the 'plot' was so boring that I couldn’t believe it was only 2 hours long."

Michael says: "Blending the isolation and separation of the brilliant WHAT TIME IS IT THERE? (only the two characters in this film are currently in the same country) and the cultural/behavioral clash and subsequent reaching out of LOST IN TRANSLATION, Thai filmmaker Pen-ek Ratanaruang's LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE is a gorgeous, whimsical flight of fancy about two lost souls making a connection. Shot by Christopher Doyle, whose brilliant cinematography has graced such visual masterpieces as HERO, RABBIT-PROOF FENCE, and IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, every shot tells a tale, even as Ratanaruang's subtle direction does the same.

"Kenji is a Japanese librarian living in Thailand. While obssessed with killing himself, he is also addicted to order, his own books lining his walls, meticulously cataloged, his clothes, socks and underwear carefully arranged in neat piles. We don't suspect that this rigid way of life and fascination with ending his own life might hide a secret past, but the possibility is there. When a shocking tragedy leads to an encounter with a Thai hostess named Noi, his life begins to change in subtle ways. After another tragic circumstance forces him to flee his orderly apartment, he finds himself living in the pigpen that is Noi's home. While avoiding a messy situation in his own life, he slowly begins to apply order to the chaos that is Noi's life. At first, Noi is consumed by her own tragedy, and resists Kenji's gentle attempts to put her life back together, but finally, in a scene of whimsical delight she relents.

"There's a whole lot more going on here... in fact, a subsequent viewing is definitely in order. It feels that every moment contributes to the story, and I'm sure I missed a lot of them. How much that appears on the screen is Kenji's fantasy? It's established early on that Kenji succumbs to a vivid fantasy life... a point made clear again at the film's finale. Then there's the fascinating moment when the title finally flashes onto the screen... 35 minutes into the film! It's also a pivotal moment, and definitely one that was intentional.

"The performances, Tadanobu Asano's (ICHII THE KILLER, ZATOICHI) Kenji, and a strong first film appearance by Sinitta Boonyasak as Noi, are magnificent, subtle and powerful. A delightful cameo by Japanese director Takashi Miike (GOZU, AUDITION) as a yakuza boss is fun and fitting. The film leaves us both satisfied and yearning for more, happy and sad. It's definitely high up on my films of the year. 5 cats"
Bruce says: "Ratanaruang’s first three films never were released in this country although they did get some festival activity and plenty of buzz. His fourth film, THE LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE, finally received theatrical distribution. This film is a dazzling mixture of style and playful, mysterious, paper-thin narrative. Credit most of the style to cinematographer Christopher Doyle (HERO, IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, THE QUIET AMERICAN, RABBIT-PROOF FENCE) who proves once again that he is at the top of his profession. Doyle is best known for his work with Wong Kar-Wai (they have collaborated on eight films) but is rapidly expanding his reputation by working with other Asian directors as well.

"In THE LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE, Kenji (Tadanobu Asano) is a Japanese librarian who lives in Thailand with his brother. He has suicidal fantasies and is fastidious to the point of being anal compulsive. Kenji has noticed a beautiful young girl in the library looking at 'The Last Lizard on Earth' in the children’s section of the stacks. One night a horrible event in his apartment sends him running into the streets.

"Kenji meets Noi (Sinitta Boonyasak) by chance as her sister’s violent death interrupts his suicide attempt. Her dead sister is the young girl Kenji observed in the library. Instead of leaping to his death Kenji is suddenly consoling Noi. In her car they drive to her beach house. Once inside it is obvious that Noi is a slob. Kenji is horrified by the stacks of dirty dishes, the overflowing ashtrays and clothes strewn over every horizontal surface. Noi thinks Kenji is more than a bit uptight. In spite of their differences, Kenji and Noi connect in the way strangers often do. Noi speaks a little Japanese that she is learning from tapes; Kenji speaks a little Thai. Often they resort to English to communicate. She shares her desires about going to Osaka, coincidentally the city where Kenji grew up. He cleans her house. Noi and her sister Nid have been working for an escort service. Noi has a mobster boyfriend (and possibly pimp) who roughs her up because he is jealous of Kenji’s presence in her house. Thugs from Osaka (with a cameo performance by director Takashi Miike) arrive in Thailand and our perceptions of the situation begin to change.

"The story seems simple, but Ratanaruang quietly takes the viewer by surprise. What seems like a chance encounter may be more than it appears. This is a film that bears watching more than one time. Ratanaruang is a director we will be hearing more about in the future. Tadanobu Asano is one of the leading young actors in Japan and is also the star of ZATOICHI: THE BLIND SWORDSMAN. Noi and Nid, sisters on the screen, are played by Sinitta and Laila Boonyasak, sisters in real life 5 cats"

Diane says: "Great! I'm sorry that I do not have any knowledge of Japanese or Thai--as when I watched THE INHERITANCE, I wanted to know when they switched languages, and I know I missed a lot of cultural references. Like other reviewers, I praise Doyle's cinematography. The irony of Kenji's suicide note, and its reappearance, was lovely. The two leads play against each other so well, esp. in the scene in which they sit next to each other at Noi's table, eating and laughing. Thank goodness I was watching it with a yakuza specialist/Japanese speaker, so that she could clarify things for me. 4 cats."
Barbara says: " wish I had seen this before sending in my nominations. The cinematography is superb. Good perfomances. What I liked best is the sense of eerieness which surrounded Kenjii’s fantasies. It is definitely a film you want to see again to catch what you missed the first time. I actually stopped and rewound a few times. 5 Cats."