Maiku Hama continues to live his carefree-life of detective work while he tries to send his sister to a university. The world he has made for himself is shattered when he finds out the mother who abandoned him and his sister all those years ago is back in town. What's worse, the riverside gang that's run by a mysterious figure known only as The White Man, targets Maiku once he accidentally uncovers some of their illegal activities. It isn't before long that Maiku finds himself on the run from his past and his present but will have to face both if he ever wishes to return to the life he once had.
If you have actually seen "The Most Terrible Time In My Life" then Hayashi's follow up film, "The Stairway to the Distant Past", comes as no surprise what with the fake trailer and all at the end of the first film. For the second film in the Maiku Hama trilogy, the black and white noir influenced style is ditched in favor of a more colorful and, dare I say, more surreal film this time around.
As the title indicates, Maiku Hama is forced to deal with his past when his mother, Lily Hama, comes back to town. Only Maiku has a memory of his mother as his sister, Akane, was far too young to remember and he doesn't take kindly to her being back in town. That, however, is the least of his worries when he's forced into an investigation of the river street gangs that are run by a mysterious figure known only as The White Man. Things become more complicated as Maiku's past collides with his present when he is forced to deal with both as he uncovers the mystery of The White Man.
"The Stairway to the Distant Past" often receives a bit more criticism than its predecessor due to the fact that it is in color and no longer carries that dark, gritty noir feel that "The Most Terrible Time In My Life" had. The change was good for a number of reasons: the first obviously being that there's no sense in making the same movie twice. The second is that "The Stairway to the Distant Past" carries a different tone and atmosphere to it than the first film. I'm being very liberal with the term here but "The Stairway to the Distant Past" can feel surreal at times and that's largely due to the movie's theme of characters coming to terms with their past. It's not merely Maiku who will have to resolve his issues with his past if he wishes to survive this case, but even the antagonist and a few supporting characters, such as Lily Hama, will have to as well.
The movie is suppose to have, at times, a dream-like quality to it and as seen in "The Most Terrible Time In My Life", Hayashi was willing to break from more standard traditions and play with the camera work (Or rather, Yuichi Nagata was since he was the cinematographer on both films.). The same creative stylings are used in this movie as well and with the use of color, the movie was able to have a bit more depth and variety with it's more artistic moments. To really draw out that atmosphere.
One thing that has not change, however, is the same comedic flare and the charismatic Maiku Hama are still the same. Hayashi still knows how to balance the movie out and where to place the dramatic and the comedy moments. The atmosphere and look may differ to a degree but the entertainment does not as you'll still be cheering on the detective who seems to be both clueless and brilliant. "The Stairway to the Distant Past" kicks things up a notch; in the first film Maiku felt more like the rockabilly-punk version of a hardboiled detective. This time around, he comes off as more of a James Bond-ish, slick detective type with his own theme song (a catchy little jazz number). There's even a moment where Maiku finds himself in a jet-ski chase on a river. A moment that should seem absolutely silly and ridiculous but somehow it works with the movie and doesn't feel as out of place as it should.
My only particular complaint with "The Stairway to the Distant Past", and I'm sure this is more of a personal grievance than an actual problem, but I was hoping the more dramatic elements would carry a bigger punch. The movie deals with some very personal issues for the character that include Maiku finding out somethings in regards to his family that he wasn't aware of. Yet this aspect the story didn't feel like it carried the weight that it should have. For instance, the ending where we see Maiku Hama finally facing his past and a confrontation that leads to a game Russian Roulette. Cinematically, it's a great scene and one of the more memorable endings but it didn't quite have that emotional punch to make it even better. Then again, I don't think Hayashi ever wanted these films or the character to become involved in a world where the story was weighed down too heavily and have it become that serious.
Either way, "The Stairway to the Distant Past" is an excellent follow up to "The Most Terrible Time In My Life". Kaizô Hayashi did what should have been done with this movie: carried over what made the first movie successful but changed it up enough to help it feel fresh, almost like a new movie. For me, I enjoyed "The Stairway to the Distant Past" a bit more than the first film because I liked that the story was a more personal one for the lead character. Of course there isn't a need to choose one or the other as both films are still well balanced entertaining films that feature a protagonist you can't help but enjoy watching.