Maiku Hama Trilogy
Lately, I've been watching Kaizo Hayashi's so-called Maiku Hama trilogy, the Japanese director's homage to film noir in general and Mickey Spillane's no-nonsense gumshoe Mike Hammer in particular. It's pretty fun and interesting as far as tributes to late '50s hard-boiled style and Swinging '60s Retro Cool go, though as critics rightly point out, it never rises about parody. It stars Masatoshi Nagase (first seen Stateside in Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train) as Maiku "Mike" Hama; Nagase has perhaps the best crop of hair in the history of Japanese cinema and his iconic cool style (the nifty threads, pork-pie hats, dangling cigarettes, sunglasses at night) makes him effortlessly watchable. He even drives a two-tone Nash Rambler convertible with California plates - how cool is that?
Maiku Hama: One Cool Cat
Thankfully, the good folks at Kino Video have packaged all three films in a box set. It's worth checking out. Here's a review from Static Multimedia that sums up the series best.
"My name is Maiku Hama. That's my real name." Masatoshi Nagase is Maiku "Mike" Hama, the Elvis of Japanese private detectives, in Kaizo Hayashi's Maiku Hama Private Eye Trilogy (Kino), a lively, witty tribute to American private eye films with a serious core. The snazzy, snappy dressing Yokohama PI with a perfectly coiffed pompadour, an office in a movie theater, and a sporty little convertible, the former juvenile delinquent scrambles for jobs, ducks repo men, and tangles with a lazily corrupt cop who won't let Maiku live down his troubled past. The Most Terrible Time of My Life( 1994), shot in iconic B&W widescreen, begins as a lighthearted film noir with sharp edges but soon transforms into a grim thriller with Hama helplessly watching the human destruction as a vicious crew of young Taiwanese gangsters take on the established Yakuza syndicate. It sets the pattern for all three films: a light comic introduction, set to a bopping, brassy score -- part Bond, part Sinatra, and all swinging sixties swagger -- gives way to the dark corruption of the underworld of the mean streets of Tokyo. In The Stairway to the Distant Past (1995), the series becomes a full color blast as Maiku is pulled into no man's land of the waterfront where a mythical criminal emperor known as the White Man (who terrifies both the yakuza and the cops) may be the key to Maiku's mysterious past. Even darker is The Trap (1996), where would-be hard-boiled boy scout Maiku has a girlfriend (a mute cutie who communicates in gestures, primitive Morse code, and faxes) who is targeted by a psychotic serial killer (also played by Nagase) who frames Maiku for his crimes. Hayashi's jazzy style is at once both playful and serious, full of comic wit and lighthearted character comedy that separates the Maiku's world -- an evocative community of friends, neighbors, and fellow PIs -- from the mean streets he must walk down. In Hayashi's world, it's that community that rises up to protect him when the rest of the world lets him down. Each disc in the box set features stills and trailers for the entire trilogy
The film series proved popular enough to spawn a 2002 Japanese TV spinoff, The Private Detective Mike Yokohama (aka Shiritsu Tantei Hama Mike). Masatoshi Nagase continued to play his Hama character in this 12-episode series, which featured a different director for each episode, including the finale by Brit Alex Cox. So far only one episode, Mike Yokohama: A Forest With No Name (Shiritsu Tantei Hama Maiku: Namae No Nai Mori, 2002), has been released in the West. This one was helmed by former Kiyoshi Kurosawa assistant Shinji Aoyama, and is supposed to tread into the unclassifiable (almost Lynchian) terrain Kiyoshi Kurosawa explored in films like Charisma.
Maiku Hama Private Eye: Trilogy (Kino)
The Most Terrible Time In My Life (IMDB entry)
Stairway to the Disnat Past (IMDB entry)
The Trap (IMDB entry)
Mike Yokohama: Forest With No Name(IMDB entry)
Mike Yokohama: Forest With No Name (Midnight Eye review)