Thursday, November 6, 2008
REVIEW: The Most Terrible Time in My Life - Kaizo Hayashi (1994)
Reviewed by Bob Turnbull
The opening scenes of "The Most Terrible Time Of My Life" set things up nicely: A customer walks up to a showing of the Hollywood classic The Best Years Of Our Lives, but he doesn't want to see the show - he wants to visit the detective upstairs. The ticket taker directs him where he has to go, but says he has to pay for his ticket first. The customer reminds her that he isn't going to see the movie, but no matter...If you want to see Maiku Hama in his office above the theatre (which doubles as the projection booth), you have to pay for the show. As that opening scene finishes, we see the outside movie theatre sign for Best Years Of Our Lives crumble away into the title of the film.
That's the kind of relationship this movie has with movies in general. The familiar territory of American noir cinema, Japanese yakuza films (by way of Suzuki and Fukasaku) and even French New Wave is inseparable from the world of detective Maiku Hama (even his name derives from there). The familiar tropes are all accounted for along the way including femme fatales, the terrific jazz and rockabilly score and the old gangster coming to give advice (in this case played by chipmunk cheeked Jo Shishido as a character called...Jo Shishido). It occasionally feels like Godard's "Breathless" because of the energy and the (at least in his own mind) hip coolness of Maiku himself. The Black and White cinematography is yet another component of the film as shadows come into play in just about every scene.
It's great fun and has a good plot dealing with gang members coming to Japan from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Though the film swings between violence and comedy, it also throws in some social commentary - particular in reference to how foreigners who attempt to integrate with Japanese society will always still be regarded as foreigners. Director Kaizo Hayashi filmed two sequels to this 1994 film - "The Stairway To The Distant Past" (1995) and "The Trap" (1996). Shinji Aoyama filmed a fourth called "Mike Yokohama: A Forest With No Name" (2002). Though I haven't seen any of them, I certainly plan to.
Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.