The Most Terrible Time in My Life


Directed by: Kaizo Hayashi
Year: 1993
Running Time: 92 minutes

With his shades perched loosely on his nose and a cigarette dangling precariously from his mouth like a suicidal man leaning over a ledge, Maiku Hama goes about his business of being a private investigator in this homage to the pulp film noir's of the 1950's. Though set in contemporary times (1993), the film has all the accoutrements of the fifties from being shot in retro black and white (with the exception of one sudden red blood splotch of violence), to slicked back hair and big sprawling American cars including Hama's 1954 Metropolitan convertible. Born at the tail end of that decade, Director Kaizo Hayashi grew up with affection for those years as well as the hard-boiled films to such an extent that he earned a private investigator license and owns the Metropolitan.

Maiku Hama is the Japanese name for the quintessential tough guy from the fifties, Mike Hammer. Spillane's anti-hero was a near psychopathic brute dispensing his own version of justice to the "scum" and "commies" that crawled in the sewers of Los Angeles in such books as "I, The Jury and "Vengeance is Mine". Hammer has received numerous film treatments that over the years have slowly mellowed his image. In the classic noir "Kiss Me Deadly" (1955) Hammer is little more than a thug who stumbles on an atomic bomb, later the more urbane Armand Assante played the character in "I, the Jury" (1982) and the final emasculation of the character takes place in the TV show in which Stacy Keach portrays him with a kind twinkle in his eye. Spillane also played his own character in the 1963 "Girl Hunters".
Maiku Hama is a far cry from the original - played by the slender Masatoshi Nagase (best known to Western viewers for his laconic character in Jarmusch's "Mystery Train", but with a very lengthy filmography in Japan) - he is a bit of a misfit who spends much of the film adorned with bandages from the various beatings he takes. Unlike the typical Hammer who is irresistible to women, there are none in Maiku's life and a male replaces the traditional femme fatale role. Director Hayashi is of Japanese-Korean descent and he sets this story in the milieu of "foreigners" in Japan where Maiku finds a niche looking for missing non-Japanese that the police can't be bothered with. This Yokohama detective has his office in a movie theater that plays old classic American films and the projector moodily throws light and shadows across his desk. To get access to him a client has to buy a theater ticket much to their amazement and when one fellow protests the unfairness of this, the elderly proprietress tells him he should watch the movie because everyone needs to see films.
While playing cards with friends, Maiku comes to the aid of a Taiwanese waiter, Yang, who is being insulted and bullied by a yakuza tough, but instead of  knocking the yakuza around, Maiku has his own finger sliced off that then has to be retrieved from a dog's mouth. This begins a friendship between Maiku and the grateful Yang that leads Maiku into the murky dangerous world of foreign gangs in Japan. Yang asks Maiku to look for his brother who has been missing since he came to Japan from Taiwan two years previously. As Maiku digs deeper with the assistance of his friend and cab driver Hoshino (Kiyotaka Namba - who stars in those wonderful Japanese Bollywood films), he comes to realize that the brother isn't missing - he has simply changed names and become a Japanese national. And joined the Black Dog Gang as their number one killer. By doing this though the brother has betrayed his old Taiwanese gang and they want him dead. He did this for love (Kaho Minami), but that doesn't change things.
Though the film begins as almost a send up of the genre with a number of amusingly sly moments, it eventually turns completely serious and deadly and is a very enjoyable and involving noir. Hayashi was to follow this up with two sequels: Stairway to the Distant Past and The Trap. Some of his other films include Zipang (1992) and Cats Eye (1997).

My rating for this film: 7.5