CONTRARY TO its title, Kaizo Hayashi's 1993 comedy is lighthearted fare, a send-up of classic old private eye films. Masatoshi Nagase of Mystery Train and Cold Fever is Mike Hama (get it?), a Yokohama P.I. who looks more like a Miami nightclub owner with his slicked-back hair, dark sunglasses, flashy shirt, and shiny belt buckle. If only looks could kill, Hama would be in better shape. But unlike Mickey Spillane's Mike Hammer, this Japanese counterpart loses all his cool and screams like a baby as he gets kicked, punched, and has his pinkie sliced off by yakuza thugs.
THE MOST TERRIBLE TIME IN MY LIFE
directed by Kaizo Hayashi
starring Masatoshi Nagase
runs June 30-July 13 at Grand Illusion
The visually striking black-and-white CinemaScope picture is the first in a three-part Mike Hama series that is finally getting international distribution. Terrible's retro style should translate well to Western audiences, and enjoyably evokes the feel of 1950s and '60s detective flicks. Throughout, Hayashi self-consciously plays around with clich鳠and conventions of film noir and hard-boiled B-movies. With a cigarette dangling from the side of his mouth, Hama sometimes looks as cool as Belmondo in Breathless—that is, until a bully shows up and punches him in the face.
It all makes for a zippy, stylish picture, and the story—involving a Taiwanese hit man in the middle of a Japanese-Chinese gang war—takes second place to the look of the piece. Hama's detective agency is located above a movie theater, and the lights from the projection booth flash constantly in his office. He's not meant to be much more than a paper cutout of a character, a parodic figure like Peter Sellers' Inspector Clouseau, which makes for shallow but amusing fun. But for all his bumbling, Hama does have one thing down pat: He looks very good running down the stairs, his shirt flying open as bongo drums beat rapidly in the background.