The usual down-on-his-luck private eye Maiku Hama has been doing pretty well for himself these days. He's even managed to find himself a gal. Things are looking up for the carefree gumshoe until a string of murders start occurring across the city. Beautiful, young women disappear only to be found shortly after, dead, but their bodies are left posed as if they were dolls. Things turn worse for the detective when evidence points to him as the killer. Maiku finds himself on the run, forced to play games with a psychotic killer and his loved ones become targets as well. This may become the darkest moment in the life of Maiku Hama.
We're here at last: the final adventure for enigmatic detective from Yokohama, Maiku Hama. Well, it was the last adventure until he was given his own TV show, but that's neither here nor there. "The Trap" is the final film in the Maiku trilogy and is the most polarizing title out of the lot. Folks either love it and mark it as their favorite due to the film's departure from its comedic and idiosyncratic roots for a much darker and serious toned movie. While others don't necessarily hate it, but do find it to be the less desirable film of the three because for that same reason.
"The Trap" finds Maiku Hama floating on cloud-nine; business is booming, debts are being paid, his sister got into a prestigious university and…he's in love. That's right, our not-quite-hardboild detective has found a young lady he is smitten with, and as the man puts it himself, "Everything is coming up roses!" As they say though, every cloud has a silver lining, well "The Trap" looks at Maiku Hama's cloud as a serial killer is targeting young girls and after he kills them, they are left in various locations as lifeless dolls. Once Maiku's girl becomes the next target of the killer, he finds himself being blamed for the murders. Now he has to solve the mystery of who the killer is while he evades capture from the police if he wishes to save the love of his life.
As I said, "The Trap" is noted for it's stark nature and much more serious approach to both the character and the story. "The Most Terrible Time In My Life" and "Stairway to the Distant Past" both had their serious moments as well but were often levitated with comedy from Maiku's shenanigans or the offbeat styling of these Japanese-noir flicks. "The Trap" plays more to a suspense-thriller and less like a noir film yet, somehow, the movie still feels like a Maiku Hama movie. Albeit a mature one as long as you don't count the opening where Maiku is driving a car full of roses while he breaks the 4th wall.
Personally, I can't ever rank the Maiku movies (although "Stairway…" is my personal favorite) because each movie is their own movie. Kaizô Hayashi is a remarkable director as he manages to keep these movies connected yet gives them their own identity. With "The Trap" it introduces a new dynamic to the lead character; we get to understand Maiku a bit more with this new emotional dynamic that is added. Especially in the moment where he confronts the killer, the actual killer, and results in one of the bleaker and more powerful endings of the three movies. Masatoshi Nagase's performance is exceptional and displays his acting range quite impressively and aids in the movie's somber tone.
Because of the emotional level of the story and development of Maiku, the heavy stylings that were predominant in "Most Terrible Time…" and "Stairway…" are absent in "The Trap". Only a moment where the killer visualizes his meeting with Maiku as a game of Shogi is when it resorts to the former visual element. The rest of the movie keeps to a more traditional thriller style and focuses its energy on an effective suspense atmosphere. It's one of those aspects where those who like "The Trap" the least in the trilogy often refer to. As much as I like the style and visuals of the first two this more 'mature' endeavor was a bold move by Hayashi and it payed off. The stark story wouldn't have worked well with the tone of the previous two but it's not so different that it feels like it's separated from Maiku's universe -- the movies grow much like its character.
So there you have it. A successful conclusion to a phenomenal trilogy that, sadly, seems to haven't had too much success outside of Japan. While "The Trap" may have a polarizing effect on Maiku's fans, it's still a solid and well rounded movie that took a character and a series of movies to the next level by taking a chance and made something a bit more serious and darker. It's a great movie to watch with a strong emotional development of a well structured character and offers a conclusion in the best possible way. There's even a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor tossed in at the very end that'll be appreciated by those who've seen all three films.