Thursday, April 11, 2013

Last Life In The Universe (2003)

WHO: Thai director Pen-Ek Ratanaruang directed this.

WHAT: An often dreamlike tale of a shy, fastidious library assistant named Kenji (played by Tadanobu Asano) who has fled Japan for Bangkok in order to escape his yakuza family ties. A random accident leads to an encounter with a slovenly extrovert named Noi leads to an "opposites attract" romance between the pair. But there are bound to be complications...

Last Life In The Universe is probably Pen-ek's most widely admired film, and it forms a pivot point in his career. After making three plot-heavy, purely Thai films that proved his versatility in directing individual scenes with aplomb, he had never really put together a film that was completely structurally satisfying. With his fourth film, the director accepted international financing and both a foreign star (Asano) and cinematographer (Christopher Doyle, best known for his collaborations with Wong Kar-Wai). Though all these complications threw off his confidence during filming, the finished product found him a natural at maintaining a more languid pace and visually depicting his characters' interior emotions. Since this, he's made four more films that represent varied attempts at elaborating on this stylistic success.

WHERE/WHEN: Screens at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts tonight only at 7:30 PM.

WHY: I was pleasantly surprised that YBCA curator Joel Shepard, while interviewing Pen-ek from the stage following last Thursday's opening to the six-film retrospective of his work, mentioned my name and the name of this blog while quoting the passage I borrowed for my recent post on Headshot. Thanks Joel, not just for the plug but for putting together a series like this that allows us to fill in gaps from this undervalued director's career, and revisit old favorites like Last Life in the Universe. After hearing Pen-ek talk about his films both publicly and in an interview I was able to conduct before he flew out of town, I'm more eager than ever to see my own personal favorite films on the big screen once again. I'm still in the midst of transcribing the interview but I'll keep readers posted when it's ready to be unveiled. In the meantime, enjoy the four remaining films in this series; Joel mentioned that the retrospective required the importing of 35mm prints from Europe as his work is no longer distributed in that form in the United States (and some of it, like this coming Sunday's Ploy, probably my second-favorite of his films, was never distributed in this country to begin with.)

Since this particular film is a Japanese co-production, it seems a worthwhile moment to mention that the next YBCA screening series will be an eight-title selection of genre films made at the Shintoho studio between 1956 and 1960. It kicks off May 9th with Ghost Story of Yostuya, directed by supernatural specialist Nobuo Nakagawa the year before he made his most famous film, Jigoku (a.k.a. Hell). None of these will be shown on film, I'm told, because there simply are no projectable and/or English-subtitled prints available anywhere in the world.

HOW: Last Life in the Universe screens from a 35mm print.

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