Last Life in the Universe is exactly as good as everyone says it is. I’d compare it to Lost in Translation, but then I’d have to get into saying which one is better, and neither of them is: and the expectations might be wrong, of course. So just take a taste of that sad meeting of two divergent people, and move on.
Tadanobu Asano’s Kenji is tired of life. Sinitta Boonyasak’s Noi doesn’t know what she wants out of life. It would be cliched to watch them find each other and come out of their shells, except that the story is punctuated with the unexpected, constantly cutting across the cliches. I went in knowing a little too much about the movie, but even knowing what was coming I was startled by the eloquence of the reveals.
It is an incredibly quiet movie, both figuratively and literally: there are vast swathes of the movie with no music and little incidental sound, and the pacing of the movie will not satisfy you if you’re expecting anything close to action. It is also incredibly beautiful, thanks in part to Christopher Doyle’s cinematography and in part to strong performances from Tadanobu Asano and Sinitta Boonyasak and in large part to Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s understated direction. The long uninterrupted pans across the Thai landscape are worth looking at, because not only is the surface beautiful, the movie rewards examination.
And then — more punctuation — there are swift bursts of violence, filmed from the side or in darkness or head on so that you can’t avoid them. It’s a movie of contrast. Some slow movies are just slow, paced that way for the sake of the director’s vision of developing story. The Last Life in the Universe is slow so that the few shockingly quick moments are heightened by contrast, just as it’s funny in order to heighten the sorrow (and vice versa). Just as it’s erotic to heighten the distance between people.
You probably missed it in the theaters. It might show up at a film festival, and it will be out on DVD next year.