Found in translation
Atmospheric and original, the Thai-Japanese yakuza-romance-enigma "Last Life in the Universe" plays with convention, perception and even the reputations of its cast members.
By PETER THEIS
Concealing a loopy sensibility in its languorous examination of
fatalism and entropy "Last Life in the Universe" by Thai filmmaker Pen-Ek
Ratanaruang is a strange, fascinating animal...apparently a lizard capable
of effortlessly evading pigeonholes.
Focusing on Japanese expatriate Kenji, played by the versatile actor
Asano Tadanobu (who, in addition to starring in the ultra-gory "Ichi the
Killer," can now be seen in Takeshi Kitano's homage "Zatoichi: the Blind
Swordsman"), the film's first scene conveys Kenji's three defining
characteristics: compulsive orderliness, suicidal desire, and passivity.
After a suicidus interruptus courtesy of his yakuza brother, Kenji
re-engages his daily routine, virtually perspiring a film of indifference
and unmalicious misanthropy which keeps him aloof, insensible, and
|LAST LIFE IN THE UNIVERSE|
|Directed by: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang.|
Written by: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, Prabda Yoon.
Cast: Tadanobu Asano, Sinitta Boonyasak, Laila Boonyasak, Yutaka Matsushige, Riki Takeuchi, Takashi Miike, Yoji Tanaka, Sakichi Sat™, Thiti Rhumorn, Junko Nakazawa, Akiko Anraku, Nortioshi Urano, Phimchanok Nala Dube, Ampon Rattanawong, Jakrarin Sanitti, Songsith Visunee, Prayoon Tiancharoenwong, Jakrapan Ruttajak.
Cinematography: Christopher Doyle.
Edited by: Patamanadda Yukol.
In Thai and Japanese with English subtitles.
Related links: Official site
Although the headwater of Kenji's anomie remains unmapped due to
Tadanobu's purposeful opacity (Kenji's exile, survival skills, and body art
point to trauma from a prior yakuza existence), it seems that Kenji feels,
unreflectively, out-of-place in a world where he sees no beauty in place or
person. However, a life preserver comes in the guise of a pretty pinafored
prostitute and an existentialist children's book providing the title of the
film, which, for all its darkness, signals that a corner has been turned in
Kenji's life (slowly turned, mind you ... he tries suicide a few more
times, but it seems more out of habit than despair).|
After witnessing the
pinafored prostitute's sudden death, mocking his own death wish, Kenji
(unable to return home because of another fatal incident) attaches himself
unobtrusively as a ward to her similarly-employed sister, Noi (Sinnitta
Boonyasak). In the countryside, the entropy of Kenji's interior reverses
course in response to Noi and the new environment, characterized by
indomitable chaos, disuse, and decay in other words, entropy externalized.
In their brief time together, Kenji and Noi first forge a provisional
domestic partnership, and then, overcoming dissonant personalities and a
linguistic barrier, they develop an emotional bond through subverbal
The film, however, is much more than a summary of its narrative
parts, as Ratanaruang hardly concentrates his directorial wand solely on
narrative. Atmospheric obsessiveness (thanks in part, no doubt, to
cinematographer Christopher Doyle, Wong Kar-Wai's usual accomplice), symbols
of who-knows-what sincerity (besides the frequent lizard, look for the
Escher-like painting of birds-to-fish in Kenji's apartment), deadpan shifts
in tone, barely-beneath-the-surface playfulness (note the Tadanobu-featuring
"Ichi the Killer" poster in the library), and, most of all, whimsical, almost
imperceptible stylistic vagaries (slightly out-of-sequence scenes, the
temporary displacement of Noi for her dead, still-scarred sister) impart a
subliminal undercurrent that makes the film authentically dreamy and
It is this earned, designed dreamy feel, which perhaps serves the
narrative function of conveying the flavor of Kenji's intake of the world
and seems to stream directly from his unconscious, that makes the film rise
above mere participation in the artfilm platonic template of minimalist,
unsentimentalized romance. Also distinguishing the film is Ratanaruang's
willed unreliability as a straightfaced storyteller; he introduces so many
playful elements that solemnity is fugitive, deflecting the viewer from
over-investment in the narrative proceedings (a tendency of audiences who
generally prefer a neorealist diet). Loopiness is a weapon wielded well
here (with its absurdist tilt), and the detachment it engenders to the
would-be lofty meditation on fate, death, and emotional attachment makes
viewing "Last Life in the Universe" a unique experience.
|AUGUST 9, 2004|
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