Reviews

Reviews

Last Life in the Universe

Last Life in the Universe

Ruang rak noi nid mahasan

Pen-Ek Ratanaruang

Thailand, 2003

Credits

Review by Matt Bailey

Posted on 01 March 2005

Source Palm Pictures DVD

Kenji is a fastidiously tidy, suicidal librarian from Japan working in Thailand. Noi is a carefree, disorderly Thai girl with no visible means of income who is moving to Osaka in a few days. Kenji and Noi meet by chance when Kenji’s brother, a reckless yakuza, is shot to death, and Noi’s sister, what the Thai refer to politely as a “hostess,” dies after being hit by a car. The two have nothing in common except for their dead siblings and can converse only in simple phrases in English, yet they grow very fond of each other and begin to change and influence each other in small but profound ways.

This is Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s fourth film but only the first of his films to receive distribution beyond the festival circuit in the United States. This may be due to the substantial contributions by such well-known names among the cinema cognoscenti as cinematographer Christopher Doyle (Hero, Chungking Express, Temptress Moon) and actor Tadanobu Asano (Ichi the Killer, Zatoichi, Bright Future) or simply to the fact that it is a brilliant and original film. Those who have seen Pen-Ek’s previous films, particularly 6ixtynin9 or the marvelous Monrak Transistor, however, may not recognize this film as being by the same director. Everything about Last Life in the Universe is stripped down to its barest essentials. The dialogue is negligible, camera angles and movement are spare, music is kept to a minimum, and even Doyle’s usually vibrant and multihued cinematography is muted and desaturated. Gone is the verdant and lush landscape of the Thai countryside and the almost kitschy tone of Monrak Transistor and the “anything goes” narrative style of 6ixtynin9. Supplanting these is a pure, thoughtful, and meditative style that seeks to propel the narrative through small, almost unnoticeable visual details. This is a film that demands second and even third viewings in order to absorb all of its nuances.

Themes of grief, loss, and loneliness pervade the look and sound of the film, yet it always feels hopeful, moving toward reconciliation and acceptance of how things must be different after the death of a loved one. The film is, at its core, optimistic. It seeks to reassure us that, despite tragedy, life goes on and can bring about wondrous changes that we never might have planned for ourselves.

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