Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
|Last Life in the Universe|
Actors: Tadanobu Asano, Sinitta Boonyasak, Takashi Miike, Laila Boonyasak, Yutaka Matsushige
Director: Pen-Ek Ratanaruang
Genres: Action & Adventure, Indie & Art House, Comedy, Drama
DVD Features: — 5.1 surround sound — Commentary track with Cinematographer Christopher Doyle — Interviews with cast and crew — Behind-the-Scenes footage — Storyboards and original drawings by Christopher Doyle — Theatrical trail... more »
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Hope and Grief: Disconnected Spheres in Slow Orbit
Ian Vance | pagosa springs CO. | 02/20/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Originally concieved as an excuse for four cinematic talents to combine forces and make a film together (i.e. "to have some fun"), *Last Life in the Universe (Ruang rak noi nid mahasan)* has moved above and beyond its humble genesis to become an art-house watermark for the burgeoning Thai film industry, the splendid result of multi-cultural synergistic craft. The first mature outing for writer/director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, *Last Life in the Universe* concerns itself with two disconnected spheres, slowly orbiting the other, seeking solace against the grief of the past.
Kenji, a Japanese ex-pat living in Bangkok, spends his days working in a library, reading voraciously and constantly daydreaming about suicide. "They say death is relaxing," he reflects in the beginning, "no pressure...no responsibilities." Kenji makes several efforts to fulfill his daydreams, to no avail: either his obsessive-compulsive tendencies interfere (he cannot resist the buzzing of a doorbell, or the ring of a telephone), or else outside events interrupt, one of which brings him into contact with Noi, a wildfire Thai escort and the polar opposite of Kenji's ultra-neat introvert. Due to circumstances which I will not reveal, the two end up at Noi's huge, filthy house in the rural outskirts of Bangkok, haltingly communicating in Thai, Japanese and English, slowly overcoming the barriers of language and temperament to engage in a languid, touching relationship. In the background, dangerous elements begin to emerge and threaten this tenuous connection; but Kenji and Noi, oblivious, continue to drift toward a hazily-imagined horizon of love and contentment.
Ace cinematographer Christopher Doyle (*Hero*) adds his usual brilliant touch, capturing the integral element of ~space~ within Noi and Kenji's divergent domains, framing the characters so that all that unsaid speaks volumes. This is necessary to the film, in that, by the director's own admission, the script is "thin." Certain clues as to the man beneath inscrutable, closed-mouthed Kenji are represented in this manner (a mere moment of revelation - physically - in turn exposes a great deal of the ex-pat's backstory), as is the development of the relationship proper. Tadanobu Asano (*Ichi the Killer*) is almost unrecognizable as the stiff, emotionally-repressed Kenji, and Sinitta Boonyasak as Noi is simply a delight, playing well off Asano and exhibiting some real talent. Prolific 'shock n' drang' film-maestro Takashi Miike makes a brief cameo as a Yakuza, along with a couple of stock thugs (Yoji Tanaka and Sakichi Sato) who have graced any number of Nihon-noir flicks and even Quentin Tarantino's *Kill Bill* metahomage.
Others have remarked on the similarity of this film to *Lost in Translation*, and I find it interesting that both were submitted to Cannes at the same time. Both films contain characters in transition-phase, struggling with language-confusion and inner trauma; both are slowly paced and scored to dreamy ambience. I consider *Last Light in the Universe* to be the better film, preferring the contrast of Noi and Kenji to that of bored, spoiled Westerns bouncing around the teflon glamour of Tokyo, sulking and sighing in the plight of their apathy; moreover, *Last Light* contains brief moments of violence, exploitation and surreal visual inspiration that startle the viewer from the languid mood of the pacing, giving the occasionally-cloudy atmosphere a much-needed grounding in reality.
DVD comes with an interview of Pen-Ek Ratanaruang about the making of the film, an insightful commentary track and photo gallery courtesy of Christopher Doyle, and trailers for several art-house flicks. Happily, the ambiguous, multi-interpretive nature of the ending is not set in concrete by either Pen-Ek or Doyle. I am content to reflect on the parable of the lizard:
"...Without family, friends, even enemies...what was there to live for?"
Kenji's emergence from a soul-crushing despondency to answer this vital question, be it 'real' or simply hopeful fantasy, is enough. Five Stars.
I can't eat fish
Daitokuji31 | Black Glass | 08/19/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Kenji, Asano Tadanobu, is a quiet man who is not only fastidiously clean, he labels which shoes he will wear for Monday, Tuesday, etc. and even has labeled his slippers for everyday use, but he also harbors a deep desire to commit suicide. However, before he has the chance to hang himself, slit his wrist, or blow his brains out something always seems to interrupt him. Near the beginning of the film, Kenji attempt at suicide is foiled when his older brother, a member of the yakuza, has unexpectedly come to hide out at his younger brother's place because he was caught having sex with the boss's daughter. Of a meek nature, Kenji allows his brother to stay at his book-filled apartment.
To pay the bills, Kenji works at The Japan Foundation's library where he is the target of the attempted seductions by the head librarian. However, Kenji's eyes are focused on a young Thai girl who works as a hostess, dressed in a sailor uniform, who comes to the library to read Japanese children's books.
Kenji's life might have remained unremarkable, but after his brother is gunned down by a yakuza and Kenji kills the yakuza with his brother's gun, Kenji leaves his hermetically sealed and sterile apartment. Standing on top of a bridge and daydreaming about drowning to death. Kenji encounters the young bargirl who has just been ordered to get out of her sister's car because she had intercourse with the boyfriend of the former. However, before they utter a word to each other a passing car hits the young girl. What follows is an odd relationship shared between Kenji and Noi, the bargirl's sister.
I picked up Last Life in the Universe on a whim a few months ago because its stars my favorites Japanese actor Asano Tadanobu. However, as the months went by I heard a number of good things about the film, including that Christopher Doyle was the cinematographer. The dialogue between Kenji and Noi is quite interesting because it consists of a mixture of Thai, Japanese, and English and although they are unable to fully communicate with each other fully through words, the chemistry between Asano and Sinitta Boonyasak is amazing.
Although the film consists of little more than dialogue between two characters, I found myself deeply drawn into it because of Kenji's taciturn nature and Noi's energetic but sad demeanor. The film is set primarily within Noi's family home which while ramshackle gives off a warm, comforting quality. If you have the chance to check out this film, please do.
21st century cross-cultural love story
LGwriter | Astoria, N.Y. United States | 11/27/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Pen-Ek Ratanaruang's 2003 film, Last Life in the Universe, is an intelligently crafted drama of two polar opposites who meet under unusual circumstances. Kenji, Japanese, is living in Bangkok, and is a suicide-obsessed neat freak librarian whose brother is a yakuza. The brother, played by none other than Mr. Intensity himself, prolific Japanese director Takashi Miike, comes to the librarian's apartment to hide out for a short time but while there, tragedy ensues and Kenji has to leave, fast.
Noi, a native Thai (the director is Thai) is arguing with her younger sister in the middle of traffic. When they stop in the middle of a busy thoroughfare, yelling at each other, Noi telling her sister to leave, tragedy of a different kind occurs and Noi is left completely numb.
Noi, as it happens, is a total slob. When these two meet--both in their 20s--there's a halting, push-pull back and forth that is underscored by lack of familiarity with the other's language. They speak to each other in hesitant English that gives their attempts at connecting to each other a much greater poignance and heartfelt feeling than if they'd been both Thai or both Japanese.
The subtlety of this connection is so sensitively created that it is a real pleasure to watch this film, to see two mismatched people try to converge emotionally. In one brilliant scene, Noi lies with her head in Kenji's lap and for a brief moment, we see not Noi lying there, but her younger sister, now gone.
Interestingly enough, this film was submitted to the Cannes Film Festival at the same time as Lost in Translation with similar thematic elements and is, in my opinion, a far better film. Unfortunately it did not win anything. The director's previous work, which has garnered strong praise from various sources, is, alas, not available domestically; it definitely should be.
UPDATE: Good news! The comedy 6ixtyNin9 by the same director will be out domestically in January 2005.
A beautifully made film that should be seen by those tired of American cinematic cliches and want something fresh, original, and unique.
Very highly recommended."
Subtle, gorgeous character-driven mood piece
C. Carroll | San Francisco, CA | 01/12/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This is a very unique film. It is definitely not for everyone because of the slow pace, and the somewhat hard to follow - or believe - storyline. But for people who enjoy slow, dreamy foriegn films, this is certainly a film worth seeing.
This film struck me as more of a character study than a cohesive narrative film. The story is somewhat elliptical, and the narrative turns on some odd coincidences. There are a few parts that are truly jarring, and it kind of messes with the tone of the film, in a good way. I didn't even 'get it' all the first time I watched it, so the film does reward further viewings. The characters are very well-drawn, and their quirks and personalities come accross as much in the quiet moments of the film as they do through story and dialogue. There are a few CGI scenes and hallucinatory sequences that give a somewhat haunting tone to the film, and help the viewer get inside the heads of the characters. I am hesitant to give away anything about the premise or characters, as I was happy to be surprised, and I'm unsure if a description of the story does the film justice or might give a wrong idea about the film. If you want a story synopsis, I will direct you to other reviewers. The story is good, but not really the strongest thing about the film, and that is why I give four out of five stars.
The main actor is very good, quite subdued in this role. I was surprised to learn that he was the same actor from the explosive Takashi Miike film, Ichi the Killer. Based on these two very different performances, I am very impressed with the versatility and risk-taking of this actor, and I now want to see more of his work. The two sisters (played by real-life sisters) are also very good, I'm unsure if they are talented newcomers, or if they are well-known in their native land, but they both seem very natural and believable in their roles. The director seems to have a good rapport with his actors, and lets them inhabit the characters fully and gets very subtle performances from them.
What stands out most in this film is the art dirtection, and the incredible cinematography by Christopher Doyle. Doyle is an Australian ex-pat who has photographed many of the most memorable and gorgeous Asian films in the last 10-15 years. He is best know for collaborating with Hong Kong auteur Wong Kar-Wai. He has also filmed 'Hero' and 'Rabbit-Proof Fence', amongst many other notable films. If this film had been shot by anyone else, I don't know if it would have been so appealing. To be sure, the images are seductive and mesmerizing, and Doyle did much to add to the atmosphere of the film. The commentary on the dvd is by Doyle, and there is an extensive gallery of photographic collages done during the film that are really great, but are reproduced far too small to see the detail on-screen. I'm happy to see that the director views this film as a collaboration with Doyle, rather than treating him as a hired hand, and the film is richer for this. I actually bought this dvd before seeing it based entirely on the fact that he was the cinematographer, something I've never done. I recommend this film just to see the photography. Really, it's a lovely looking film.
Overall, I recommend checking this film out.
It's strange. It's sweet. It's kind of sad.
And it is beautiful."