> Volume 6 > Number 31


Pan-ek Ratanaruang

Tadanobu Asano
Sinitta Boonyasak
Laila Boonyasak
Yutaka Matsushige

Release: 6 Aug. 04

Last Life in the Universe


Pan-ek Ratanaruang’s Last Life in the Universe begins with the exploration of a fastidiously-kept home, each book in its place, each shoe prepared for a day of the week, each beer turned label-forward in the fridge. This is the home of Kenji (Asano), a lonely librarian’s assistant in Bangkok, Thailand. He’s Japanese, barely knows the Thai language, and has become accustomed to the lonely lifestyle this situation affords. Having looked through all the accoutrements of loneliness -- his home seems just a couple notches past the Ikea compulsiveness of Edward Norton in Fight Club -- the camera finds Kenji hanging from the ceiling, a suicide note in his hand reading, “This is bliss.”

The suicide is a dream, but the lifestyle is not. Solemn to a point of atrophy, the appearance of Kenji’s yakuza brother makes it clear to the audience that Kenji won’t be living la vita noiosa for much longer. Indeed, by the time the film’s opening credit has appeared -- thirty minutes into the picture -- there are two dead bodies rotting in Kenji’s apartment and he’s living with a Thai woman who lives like a slob.

Partly Bringing Up Baby, partly Lost in Translation, the relationship between Kenji and his host Noi (Boonyasak) moves glacially through the impressionistic imagery brought by Ratanaruang and master cinematographer Christopher Doyle (his images haven’t been this evocative of unbridled chemistry since In the Mood for Love). One knows that the ultimate dénouement has to be a mediation -- a cleaner Noi, a less uptight Kenji -- but the often unpredictable story offers many surprises that seem pulled from Jean-Pierre Melville. Asano, a wonderful proxy for Alain Delon, is the polar opposite of the characters he normally plays, from the sadistic title character in Ichi the Killer to Zatoichi’s nemesis in The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi. Within his performance -- amid the long, languid shots of Kenji and Noi enjoying the act of smoking like no one since the last days of ‘50s film noir -- is the core of the story, that one’s evasion of loneliness can be a blessing and a curse. Playing Kenji as a distant, mysterious figure, Asano grapples with the way one might find solace in one’s self and still wonder what pleasures and pains await you if you’d only taken a step out of the house

©2004, David Perry,, 30 July 2004