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Missing tears

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.


  1. Ed Ed

    Thanks for writing something about this. I’ve been really excited about seeing Last Life ever since I heard Miike had a cameo in it. But now I’ve learned a lot more, have grown to appreciate the acting style of Asano, and will be expecting a DVD copy in a day or two. Unfortunately missed it on the big screen. In fact, I don’t even remember it playing anywhere near me.

    I’ve heard many comparisons to Lost in Translation, which is cool, but I hope its not too similar because I’m not the biggest fan…

  2. My pleasure. It is definitely not a Miike movie, although I think there are echoes in terms of the sudden violence — but that’s used with a light touch. It’s fascinating learning more about non-HK Asian film and discovering how the various film vocabularies influence one another: Last Life is an excellent example, with Doyle’s cinematography and the clear debt to Miike.

    I also very much like seeing what other people are doing with Miike’s techniques.

    It’s not really similar to Lost in Translation except insofar as it’s two damaged people making a connection in Asia. It’s an inevitable comparison but it’s not a similarity, if you see what I mean.

    btw, I very much enjoy and appreciate your blog.

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