“Last Life in the Universe”

Sick days never existed for me when I was younger, meaning I’d either go to school healthy or be the one prick that got everyone else sick. But regardless of never having truly experienced a sick day in all its glory, I feel like “Last Life in the Universe” would be categorized as one of those movies you’d watch cooped up in your house with a box of tissues and Tylenol at your side.

The Thai film, directed by Pen-Ek Ratanaruang, at first glance (read: “first reading of Netflix’s shoddy movie summaries”) comes off as one of those artsy-fartsy foreign films depicting a quirky relationship between two unsuspecting characters, but the way the film actually goes about things, you’d forget that at times.

You’re introduced to Kenji, a Japanese librarian that’s pretty down on his life to the point of suicide. However, he clearly makes a point to claim that he’s different from the other typical suicide-prone-over-worked people in that he has no true reason for wanting to kill himself. He’s nothing more than a humdrum average guy that does nothing special in particular, but isn’t exactly down due to such or willing to make his life any better, either. He’s a rather wishy-washy character with unclear intentions, even by the end of the film.

The real point of interest early on in the film is his brother Yukio and his friend Takashi (interestingly enough, the sensei in the second “Battle Royale”) who, without spoiling too much end up in something of a scuffle at Kenji’s place resulting in both their deaths. With these two characters adding so much to the plot so early in the movie, one could get lost in all the action and have no idea what’s going on… then again, that’s just foreign films for you in general.

Enter Noi, a Thai bar hostess and complete opposite to Kenji in every way possible. As expected, the two meet up by chance and with Kenji in need of a place to stay away from the crime-scene that’s become his home, Noi hesitantly allows him to stay. The movie continues onward from here working off the two’s odd couple style interactions—Kenji the type to clean every nook and cranny of Noi’s beachside house, while Noi the type to just sit there and watch, taking an occasional smoke as she does so. As appealing as the textbook-style budding romance is however, one can’t help but wonder of the repercussions from Kenji’s apartment. While Kenji isn’t exactly perked up about life, you’d think he’d at least show some signs of wondering about people possibly investigating his place. He doesn’t even make that big a deal of it when he brings the situation up with Noi, who assumes he’s joking—something you’d think would drastically affect their relationship if she were to find out the truth. Then again, this could bring to light the rather confusing ending(s?) of the movie.

What’s especially interesting about the film is that it’s technically trilingual—Kenji speaking in Japanese, Noi speaking in Thai, and the two speaking to each other in rather good English. In this sense, it reminds me of those cheesy old films where the cowboy-type character woos the foreign woman after a daring rescue. But instead of coming off as trite, a completely different feel for the relationship is present. Both characters don’t exactly have much going for themselves, so you’re not given the impression of one being higher up in “status” than the other, thus being able to whisk the other off their feet onto a road of self-improvement. Neither are you given the impression that the characters are improving the other in any way. Rather, you have two people of equal social status value simply interacting with each other and trying to deal with the problems in their lives… which don’t exactly make themselves present until the final 20 minutes or so of the film.

So while “Last Life in the Universe” isn’t the best quirky romance out there, it does serve as something interesting to watch on a rainy day.

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About daemoncorps
Gabe (daemoncorps) has been writing about anime and the like since 2005, but has been babysat by it for much longer. He primarily spends his days distracting himself on twitter or writing for Fandom Post until he realizes he has a weekly webcomic (tapastic.com/series/scramblebouquet) to work on. He also just finished writing his first full-length graphic novel about unemployment (https://tapastic.com/episode/293804).

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