The eccentric Yokohama detective Maiku Hama finds himself in a world of trouble when he ends up in the crossfire of two rival gangs that are jockeying for control of the streets. People turn the other cheek, the cops just want to let the gangs kill each other off but Maiku tries to put a stop to it all before the two brothers at the center of this international bloody-feud end up dead.
Sometime ago I reviewed the movie "Mike Yokohama: A Forest With No Name"; a lovely little surreal excerpt from the TV series based on the Kaizô Hayashi character Maiku Hama. I've been wanting to cover Kaizô Hayashi's Maiku Hama trilogy on Film Bizarro for awhile but the opportunity never really presented itself. Actually it's because I'm a lazy turd, but that's neither here nor there. Since I'm on this crime-flick spree, I figured now was as good of a time as any to talk about Hayashi's character that has come to rival his own inspiration, Mike Hammer.
"My name is Maiku Hama. That's my real name."
"The Most Terrible Time In My Life" introduces us to the young-charismatic Yokohama detective who works in an office above a movie theater and makes a living as a P.I. so his sister can go to a university. Those who know Maiku Hama either love him or hate him due to his wild and unpredictable nature as he tends to do things his way, whether that's right or wrong. It's his willingness to buck the system and stray from tradition is what lands him in trouble as Maiku finds himself in the middle of an international gang war. Two former Taiwanese hitmen, who also happen to be brothers, are pitted against one another between The New Japs and The Black Dogs to determine which gang will control the streets. The cops are willing to let the gangs spill as much blood as needed to make their job easier but Maiku, who comes from a trouble past himself, wants to do whatever it will take to reunite the wayward brothers before it is too late.
With "The Most Terrible Time In My Life", or any of the Maiku Hama films really, people often tout that they are light-hearted comedic throw backs to Hollywood noir and Japan's own gangster films of the 60's. They're not exactly wrong because, yes, all three films have some comedy and part of that comes from the Maiku Hama character himself. Sometimes it's down right silly with Maiku breaking the 4th wall and addressing the audience in the film's opening or how his reckless ways often end with disastrous results. Like him losing a finger during a scuffle at a gaming parlor.
The varying comedy works well because Kaizô Hayashi is not afraid to let scenes play for laughs where it is appropriate and because Masatoshi Nagase has his finger firmly on the pulse of Maiku Hama and what kind of person he is. Masatoshi Nagase is Maiku Hama. Between Hayashi and Nagase the comedy never really fails even when it goes from silly and absurd to dark. Also because the Maiku Hama character is handled so well you can't help but be entertained while you watch him and his shenanigans.
So yes, the Maiku Hama films are comedic and entertaining but that's only part of it. The comedy works as well as it does because it is appropriately placed and is then balanced out with plots that are more serious and somber than they are often given credit for. "The Most Terrible Time In My Life" carries a traditional noir plot of a detective trying to do what is right. In the case of this movie, it's Maiku Hama trying to reunite two estranged brothers who are being used by rival gangs since each other's death will help start a shift in power. Not exactly light-hearted material, if you ask me.
The movie features excellent writing by Kaizô Hayashi and Daisuke Tengan in that there are a number of elements that are intertwined with the main plot. It's not a question of the movie being multi-layered and there aren't needless subplots to bog the story down. Instead, these elements are issues and or problems that are occuring within Japan and its culture. Any country and culture, for that matter. The movie acknowledges the racism when it comes to immigrants in Japan, in this case, with Taiwanese. It also covers a shift in morals and ideals between generations; young people do not hold what some would call tradition in the same regards that the older generation does. That specifically is what the Maiku Hama character represents in the movie and why he is met with so much friction with other characters, particularly Lt. Nakayama.
There are a few other aspects covered within the story such as loyalty, family, friendship and honor and that's what makes the movie as good as it is: the legitimacy of the plot through details. It's not a superficial movie that places style over substance. "The Most Terrible Time In My Life" is a stylistic neo-noir movie that is both comedic and dramatic, but the fact that there is real writing behind the movie that gives both the story and characters depth. Kaizô Hayashi also manages to balance the various aspects out as it is needed. The story can get heavy and melodramatic at times but there is still that humor element in there to help pull it back from going too far, and vice versa. The same goes with the style of the movie. There is a homage to Western noir movies with Hama's style that makes him feel like he's a character who is misplaced in time. There is also a bit of traditional Japanese gangster quality to "The Most Terrible Time In My Life" but with an independent, arthouse flair.
To put it simply: Kaizô Hayashi made a unique movie, and ultimately a unique trilogy, that stands on its own due his willingness to take different elements, styles and tones and manage to find the right balance and blend to make something his own. "The Most Terrible Time In My Life" is called a number of things but what it really is and what it comes down to is that it's excellent film. It is such a broad title that it does offer something for everyone and the enigmatic Maiku Hama is the type of character you want to see in a movie. He's the type of protagonist that you find yourself cheering for because he's so damn likable and that is in thanks to him being well written, directed and acted. I'm not guaranteeing that you'll love "The Most Terrible Time In My Life" but I think it would be hard not to appreciate the skillfully crafted movie.