Last Life In The Universe has so many things going for it. For starters, it’s directed by Pen-ek Ratanaruang, who made the glorious Monrak Transistor. Although this film had a very different feel, simplicity in place of energy, it’s still made by a talented director who’s capable of making it work well.
Then there’s the cinematographer: it’s hard to find better than Chris Doyle. I imagine that people must be queueing up to use the services of this rather quirky individual, for very good reason. And, of course, there’s Asano Tadanobu, who’s a highly talented actor and a total babe.
So does Last Life measure up to expectations? I’d have to say yes. It’s a calm, gentle film, with lots of beautiful visuals courtesy of Doyle and Thailand. The story, while admittedly not the one they’d originally conceived, works well, and is simple enough to avoid cluttering our minds with too many complications, yet consistent and strong enough to keep our attention.
There’s a bit of a reality disconnect for anyone who’s recently seen, say, Ichi The Killer. If your last sight of Asano was as the blond, pierced, masochistic yakuza crazy, then you’ll have to work to come to grips with him here. This time around, the versatile actor plays a Japanese librarian working in Thailand, a shy, quiet, orderly man who catalogues his shoes with labels for each day. And that’s a far cry from Kekehara. But he’s convincing, and oddly likeable.
Most of the interaction between Asano and his co-star, Sinitta Bunyasak, is in English, which adds to the charm. There’s one moment in particular that I loved: Asano is asking to stay yet another day at the beach house, and when she asks why he can’t go home, he replies “Smells bad.” She queries, and he replies, in the same pause-filled but unconcerned English, “Two dead people”. Ah. Reason enough.
I can’t really think of a way this film could have been improved, unless it involved Asano getting his kit off. And he’s such a lamb of a librarian that if he did, I’d just want to wrap him up in a soft blanket and put him to bed with a hot drink.
How’s that for a recommendation?