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Palm Pictures presents
"Staring at the sunset, he thinks: 'What is the point in living if I don't have anyone to talk to?' But even that thought doesn't mean anything when you're the last lizard."
DVD ReviewLoneliness is part of being human. There are moments throughout our lives when we are faced with an inescapable sense of isolation. Sometimes it's a welcome respite from the demands of daily life, but other periods of solitude are entirely unwelcome; we find ourselves wanting nothing more than the company of another. In these critical moments, would it feel any different if you were the last person on the face of the planet? Director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang explores this universal feeling—the sense of being the only beacon of existence—in the appropriately titled Last Life in the Universe.
Kenji (Asano Tadanobu) has had his fill of this world. A quiet, reserved, almost feminine librarian with a meticulously maintained apartment, he is on a suicidal bent. To him, death is comparable to a brief, refreshing nap—one that serves as a gateway to a better life beyond the mundane isolation of his current routine in Bangkok. Kenji, a native of Osaka, Japan, works at the local Japanese cultural library, filing books and looking for some kind of positive human contact. He is treated with kindness by his employer, but this is merely a professional relationship, not one that implies longevity. Like the condition of his apartment, his attempts at suicide are orderly and planned, but each time the moment of death approaches, he is interrupted.
The first accidental rescue is made by Kenji's yakuza brother, a typical loudmouth gangster who sees his sibling as quite the nut job. Kenji seems to have fled a life of seedy criminality, but his intricate back tattoo does not let him forget his past. Later, on a highway overpass, an accident prevents Kenji's death jump into a local river. The struck pedestrian? Nid, beloved sister of Noi (Sinitta Boonyasak), a young, exuberant Thai girl who is beginning to pay for the mistakes and recklessness of her youth. Through a tragic death and broken english, the two begin to communicate. Noi too is a loner, living alone in a huge beach house that is appalling in its disorder. Language barriers provide a slight obstacle between the silent Kenji and his all-too-talkative friend, but the two share some fine conversations, and become fast friends.
In a welcome, unpredictable fashion, Last Life in the Universe unfolds in its own languid way, filling the running time with scenes of delicate conversation, and moments of wordless understanding. This is a barren, austere film that relies on the juxtaposition of two loners and their polar-opposite lifestyles. In some ways, this is a textbook case of opposites attracting, but Kenji and Noi share a common sense of isolation—the true reason for their deep connection. The story here is really a throwaway, devoid of a concrete plot. Characters come and go, and there are some sources of danger and offbeat comedy that intrude from time to time, but these moments are meant to fill the gaps and keep the audience interested. Unfortunately, they serve more as distractions from the primary relationship. More attention should have been placed on the pair's interactions than on characters peripheral to their lives.
Still, the connection between Kenji and Noi is undeniable and quite successful on screen. Asano Tadanobu's performance as the reserved, silent and decidedly human Kenji is amazing in its range and subtly. Asano is a true talent. Noi, played by Sinitta Boonyasak, is appropriately chipper and passionate when called for, but displays a genuine range that serves as a fine counterpoint to the subdued tones of Kenji.
Space, and an excess thereof, is a focus here; it is essentially another character. These expanses are captured brilliantly by the keen eye of cinematographer Christopher Doyle—in my opinion, one of the best DP's working today. A veteran of films directed by Philip Noyce, Zhang Yimou and most notably Wong Kar-Wai, Doyle's touch makes this film work. Utilizing an austere, spacious frame, and subdued, desaturated colors, Doyle captures solitude through images. I have enjoyed his work immensely over the years, and this is no exception. Some obvious CGI shots pop up now and then, but they're meant to be fantastical and otherworldly. At they very least, these images keep things fresh and make up for what the sparse story lacks.
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: Palm's transfer captures Chris Doyle's effective imagery quite well. Detail is decent, but the image is pretty soft throughout, showing some film grain. This softness helps avoid any kind of harsh digital edginess. Colors are rightly subdued, and contrast is solid.
Image Transfer Grade: B
Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby 5.1 track can be subtly atmospheric, but is pretty lifeless. The majority of the audio is centered in the front, and I detected only occasional surround activity. The audio is clear and serviceable, but nothing more. A stereo track is also included.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 18 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
3 Other Trailer(s) featuring Reconstruction, DIG!, Director's Label Series Boxed Set: The Works of Spike Jonze, Chris Cunningham, and Michel Gondry
1 Feature/Episode commentary by cinematographer Christopher Doyle
Packaging: Scanavo Clear Keepcase
Now, for the cream of the crop. If you're at all familiar with Christopher Doyle from interviews, you know that he's quite the unique personality. An Aussie who has seen the world through a variety of jobs (such as a sailor), Doyle's journey to film is nothing short of amazing. Though more subdued in this track than some other interviews I've read, his comments here are a revealing look at his filmmaking philosophy not only on this project, but on his past films, as well. Other works are mentioned, including Chungking Express and Hero, tracing the idea that each film he makes is a product of who he is at the time of production. He could not possibly have made Hero without his desert experience on films like Ashes of Time, and so on. He is an articulate, colorful conversationalist, and has a penchant for women and liquor (who doesn't?). Early on, he declares this film is not his best because it wasn't sponsored by a beer company (though there was a lot of Heineken on set). This is an invaluable track for Doyle fans everywhere.
In addition, the disc includes a gallery of Doyle's photography and artwork inspired by the film. His contributions to the extra material and the film itself are what merit my full recommendation.
A theatrical trailer, trailers for other Palm titles, and a page of weblinks rounds out the extras. The disc is housed in a clear keepcase, through which you can view the back of the dual-sided cover art. The inside contains film credits, plus biographies and filmographies for Pen-Ek Ratanaruang and Chris Doyle.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsPen-Ek Ratanaruang's study of solitude is dangerously close to arty nonsense, but is vindicated by Christopher Doyle's austere, stylish imagery and some strong performances. Doyle's contributions to the film and the extras push this into recommended territory. Now, where's my Heineken?
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