Wednesday, March 11, 2009

REVIEW: The Stairway To The Distant Past

遥かな時代の階段を (Harukana Jidai no Kaidan o)

Released: 1995

Kaizo Hayashi

Masatoshi Nagase
Kiyotaka Nanbara
Haruko Wanibuchi
Shinya Tsukamoto
Jo Shishido

Running time: 101 min.

Reviewed by Bob Turnbull

"The Stairway To The Distant Past" is the second film in a trilogy of modern noir like stories that follow young detective Maiku Hama as he deals with clients, friends, family and his tendency to be quick to anger.

Much of the first film's template is repeated here (e.g. Hama's clients still need to pay admission to get to his office above a movie theatre even if they aren't going to see the movie), but there are a number of differences too. Most obviously, the film is shot in colour this time around with excellent use of different schemes from scene to scene (unfortunately the DVD I watched was somewhat washed out - and non-anamorphic too dammit!). So even though the shadows of black and white photography don't loom around every corner as in "The Most Terrible Time Of My Life", the cinematography still presents mood and atmosphere in abundance.

As well, there is a darker overall tone to the film with the past being part of these characters' everyday lives. Maiku takes care of his young sister and continues to shield her when their mother returns (after having deserted them years ago). His mother, for her part, continues in her old profession as the stripper Dynamite Sexy Lily. She's getting on in years, but doesn't really have many other skills to fall back on. The character called "The White Man" has built his business up from the wreckage of the riverfront that followed the war and continues to rule it with the same iron fist. The war is still prevalent in the lives of many of these people and never quite distant enough.

The film also includes many references and indications that a class system still exists in their society and there is always a strong push to retain "status" (the pull of private schools, the shame of being related to a low class stripper, etc.). As "The New Japs" try to break into the riverfront territory, they are proud of the fact that they don't care who they insult and are quite happy to ignore hierarchy. But how will that mesh with the tradition of The White Man - one that even the police don't want to deal with?

But even with these themes running through the story, the film retains an entertaining zip to it. The same great jazzy music is present throughout as are the little bits of humour, odd character quirks and Maiku's stubborn and at times petulant personality. I look forward to catching up with Maiku in his third film "The Trap" (there appear to have been several other made for TV/video releases as well).

Read more from Bob Turnbull at his blog.

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