The Most Terrible Time in
Directed by: Kaizo Hayashi
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