Mark my words – you will be hearing a lot more about this one. If it comes your way, do all you can to catch it. “Last Life in the Universe” partners us with Kenji, a quiet Japanese library clerk working in Bangkok, who is so fed up with his mundane existence that he frequently fantasizes about suicide. We observe his obsessively neat living habits until he finally makes up his mind to jump off a bridge. But the tragic death of a girl he’s been obsessed with, the shooting of his brother and Kenji’s murdering of his brother’s killer brings those plans of suicide to a halt. Kenji has other plans and they include finding the dead girl’s sister, Noi, and temporarily moving in with her to her reluctance. Kenji’s plan is to get to know more about this girl he barely knew but is still obsessed with even after her death. Also, he kinda needs a place to crash as his own home gets exceedingly stinky with the rotting aroma of dead bodies. Noi kind of ignores him for a while and he spends his time accepting the self-set challenge of cleaning up her pigpen of a home. Noi finally starts coming around and a relationship slowly, and awkwardly builds, but both of them have pasts that refuse to let them live happily ever after.
Pen-ek Ratanaruang’s film is equally charming and addicting all the way through. From playing fly-on-the-wall to Kenji’s lonesome life, to these two lost souls clumsily building a relationship, to the final third act that is sad, funny and scary all at the same time, this is a solid movie that you won’t want to end.
The entire cast is amazing, including small parts by Riki Takeuchi and filmmaker Takashi Miike as Yakuza. Takashi Miike fans rejoice; this is worth the price of admission alone. Asano Tadanobu and Sinitta Boonyasak are a total thrill to watch, so much so that you want to jump through the screen and give them a big old hug. Another major star of the film is cinematography by Wong Kar-Wai’s favorite Christopher Doyle who does it again by making “Last Life in the Universe” look lickable.
This was my first film at Sundance 2004 and I’m betting my a*s that it will be the best thing I see at the fest…nay, perhaps all year. I can’t say enough so I’ll just stop here.