Lonely librarian Kenji (Tadanobu Asano) and forlorn schoolgirl Noi (Sinitta Boonyasak) are inextricably bound after a shocking traffic accident, and together they lounge around her apartment quietly ruminating on their chance encounter. “This is bliss,” reads an existential note written by Kenji, who spends much of Pen-Ek Ratanaruang’s Last Life in the Universe concocting seemingly motivation-less suicide scenarios. The clean-freak Kenji tells the slovenly Noi that he can’t return to his apartment because there are “two dead people inside.” She thinks he’s joking (he’s not), but he could be talking about himself and this bereft young girl he speaks to in two or three different tongues (who’s counting anyway?). She’s getting ready to leave for Osaka. He’s being pursued by yakuzas (one played by Japanese schlockmeister Takashi Miike). Together they wait for something, anything to happen. As photographed by the greatest cinematographer in our known universe, Christopher Doyle, this Thai love story seemingly evokes what life must be like inside a scarcely populated snow globe. For optimum etherealism, space and time is shaken up (the film’s title doesn’t even appear on the screen until some 30 minutes in) so that the past and the future exist at the same time. The cinematic equivalent of Brian Eno’s Ambient 1: Music for Airports, Last Life in the Universe isn’t so much weightless as it is liable to inspire weightlessness. Like any good mood piece, it’s best to be in the mood for it. Now, can someone pass whatever Noi is smoking?
A mixed bag: The Dolby Digital 5.1 surround track won't rock your world, but it still does justice to the dreamy ambient throb of the film's soundtrack, while the image may disappoint anyone who got to see the film on the big screen; scratches and debris are scarcely a problem, but the overall softness kind of negates all the hard work Chris Doyle put into every shot.
Chris Doyle is very happy to tell us that Last Life in the Universe is not the first film he ever shot in Thailand but it's the first film he shot inside the country that also takes place there. Doyle is a little on the austere side but his commentary is wowing: His description of the way he turns "ideas" into "images" in the first few minutes is absolutely astonishing. Rounding out the disc is a loungy video interview with director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang that threatens to take us inside the man's right nostril at one point, a gallery of Doyle's artwork, the film's theatrical trailer, weblinks, and previews for Reconstruction, Dig!, and the three titles in Palm Pictures's Directors Label.
Image quality is a major letdown but the Chris Doyle commentary track certainly is not.