Last Life in the Universe: This House Is Very Dirty

in 2nd World Film Festival of Bangkok

by Alexandra Seitz

The winner of this year’s Fipresci-award at the Bangkok International Film Festival, Last Life in the Universe (Ruangrak Noinid Mahasan) by Pen-ek Ratanaruang, is a slow, quiet and beautiful film, centering around two lonely characters, Kenji (Asano Tadanobu) and Noi (Sinitta Boonyasak), who, against all odds, succeed in giving each other comfort and the strength to live on after catastrophe has hit their lives. Kenji is played by Asano Tadanobu, a star in Japan, and one of the most gifted actors of his generation (and not only in his homeland). Almost without words, but with so much more subtle emotional expression, he draws our attention to his character, a former member of a Yakuza-gang, who may have fled to Bangkok in search of a better life. But for whatever the reason for his being alone and lonely in that Megalopolis, in the end it doesn’t matter.

The plot of Last Life in the Universe – a Yakuza comes after Kenji’s brother, who insulted the big boss, which results somehow in two dead people stinking up Kenji’s flat, causing Kenji to leave (and meet Noi) and three more Yakuza to show up and look after the vanished first one – is of almost no importance, compared to what is going on between the appearances of the Japanese thugs. When Kenji leaves his flat and is just about to throw himself from a bridge, he witnesses the death of Nid, Noi’s sister, in a car accident. There go his suicide plans and by way of helping Noi he connects to life again. As does Noi. One could read the mere plot as a rather brutal way of linking the sensitive description of the state of two souls to fate, suitably peppered with some comic or rather ridiculous elements, and therefore showing the bitterness and sadness of the emotional subtext in a more milder light. (On the other hand, it is a truism, that even the greatest human tragedy takes place in the midst of the totally inappropriate chaos of everyday life.)

So there’s truth not only in the quiet emotional center of Last Life in the Universe, but also in its sometimes grotesque more hands-on surroundings. Christopher Doyles part in this is of no small importance. Once more his work as director of photography seems to create a comforting home for the emotions of the characters rather than functioning as an instrument of storytelling. In Doyle’s images lies the compassionate heart of Last Life in the Universe, the one, that translates itself to the audience. So that in the end, we hope, Kenji and Noi will meet again, because they deserve happiness.