Stacy Keach probably has the most screen-time playing Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer (with several TV movies and two or three TV Series to his credit, depending on how you count the long hiatus resulting from his drug conviction), but Masatoshi Nagase was a close second. Technically, he portrayed Maiku Hama, but it is basically the same difference. He starred as Hama/Hammer in an original hard-boiled trilogy, as well as a later sequel and subsequent 12-episode television series. Nagase’s Hammer-time started in Kaizo Hayashi’s The Most Terrible Time in My Life, which screens as part of the Maiku Hama retrospective, now underway at the Spectacle Theater.
Hama is such a noir guy, his office is in the projection room of fleabag revival cinema. In addition to his daily fee and expenses, prospective clients have to pay 1,000 yen just to get past the velvet rope. He is not as violent and swaggering as Spillane’s gumshoe, but he is extraordinarily hard-headed. When he takes a case, he will see it through. Unfortunately, when he agrees to find the long-lost brother of a Taiwanese migrant worker, Hama finds himself on a good-intention-paved path to Hell.
It turns out the missing brother is mobbed up with the Yakuza. That means his search draws the unwelcome attention of the cops, whom the Japanese Hama does not get on with nearly as well as his American counterpart. He will take many beatings during this case and even have a finger severed early in the first act. Don’t worry, they will be able to re-attach it, more or less.
Frankly, we can guess most of the revelations Hayashi and co-screenwriter Daisuke Tengan have in store for us, but the whole point of Terrible is to go along with the noir ride. Nagase is a physically less imposing Hama/Hammer, bit he is a livewire of nervous energy—and quite the stylish dresser. Yang Hai-ping and Hou Te-chien are impressively intense as the Yang brothers, but Kaho Minami is a true marvel as the tragically dignified sister-in-law, Byakuran. Plus, for added notoriety, cult actor-director Shinya Tsukamoto pops up as a Yakuza psychopath.
Hayashi openly invokes classic film noir and classic film noir homages (Godard and Truffaut definitely seem to be touchstones, along with Bogart and Spillane, himself). The black-and-white cinematography is pleasing to the eye, especially for genre fans. The crime jazz and rockabilly soundtrack also proudly proclaim its American sources of inspiration, while the conflicts between Japanese and Taiwanese/HK gangsters connects it to the Yakuza movie tradition. Highly recommended for fans of Mike Hammer and Yakuza films, The Most Terrible Time in My Life screens again March 8th, 15th, 23rd, and 26th, at the Spectacle Theater in Brooklyn.