Tadanobu Asano is Japan’s answer to Johnny Depp. Like Depp, Asano is blessed (cursed?) with pop star good looks and could have easily lived out the teen idol fantasy doing pin-up spreads in Japan’s equivalent to Seventeen and Tiger Beat magazine. But like Depp, Asano has chosen to turn his back on mainstream pop culture, instead starring in a series of cult films that has made him Japan’s reigning king of quirk cinema. And again, like Depp, thanks to his continual reinvention of himself as a performer, Asano has become one of the most sought after Japanese stars, appearing in films from the likes of Takashi Miike, Kiyoshi Kurosawa, and Takeshi Kitano. Asano’s presence in a film is a nearly surefire mark of quality and it was purely on the basis of his presence that I sought out the just-released Thai film Last Life In The Universe.
Asano stars as Kenji, an isolated and obsessively neat Japanese man living on his own in Bangkok, living a quiet life as a librarian at the Japanese Cultural Center. His apartment is a sterile, cold place, almost entirely devoid of any color with his possessions - mostly stacks upon stacks of books - fanatically organized by size, shape, color, etc. Kenji is also suicidal, openly entertaining death fantasies and wondering what comes next - a topic he has evidently dwelt upon for quite some time.