Tuesday, June 14, 2011

THE MOST TERRIBLE TIME IN MY LIFE


1994, Kaizo Hayashi
Starring: Masatoshi Nagase, Shiro Sano, Kiyotaka Nanbara, Yang Haitin

Waga jinsei no toki aka The Most Terrible Time in My Life is the first film in director Hayashi's "Maiku Hama" trilogy, which is concluded with Stairway to the Distant Past and The Trap. Maiku (the wonderful Nagase) is a lower end private eye with an office in a movie theater. He is working hard to save up for his sister's college education, so he uses his criminal past and explosive personality to solve any case that comes across his desk. That is, until he meets Yang, a lonely Taiwanese waiter who claims to be searching for his long lost brother. Maiku's heart of gold immediately draws him to Yang, for whom he begins to feel personal responsibility. His obsession with finding Yang's brother leads him back towards the violent underworld of the yakuza and triads (for those of you not obsessed with Asian gangster films, Japanese and Chinese mafia respectively). But Yang is not whom he appears to be and Maiku is forced to deal with rapidly escalating and increasingly unpredictable violence, and a lot of unsettling truths.

Though it is a lesser known effort, The Most Terrible Time in My Life is a hidden gem. Fusing elements of neo-noir and Japanese gangster films and spoofing the French new wave, this film is dark, comic, violent, and heartfelt. The main character is written and acted brilliantly and you can't help but love every scene he is in. Though it is not a perfect film by any means, it will keep you guessing in true noir fashion. Aside from the outright comic scenes there are also plenty of quirks that keep the film light and amusing, despite its dark subject matter: Maiku's ridiculous car, his office in the movie theater and his "lieutenant" who doubles as a cab driver, among many other things.

The Most Terrible Time in My Life also toys with deeper questions of identity, mostly related to family and nationality. There are multiple opposing factions working dramatically towards the film's bloody conclusion. First, there is the biological/traditional family versus the artificial family, represented by the gangs. Second, there is the idea of nationality, which usually refers to one's birth country, language, and culture, but one of the main antagonists in the film is a sinister gang of foreigners who have declared themselves Japanese and rejected their old languages and customs. Mostly they are made up of Chinese, Taiwanese, and Koreans. I personally love films that deal with this multi-cultural dynamic, particularly when it involves cultures with a lot of political tension like Japan and China, no matter how bad they are like the often unintentionally amusing Fulltime Killers.

This film is available as a region 1 release by the wonderful Kino Video. The print is pretty clean, but the sound is very good, especially the repetitive jazzy soundtrack. The Most Terrible Time in My Life is available alone, which is the version I'm reviewing, or as part of a box set with the other two films in the trilogy, also released by Kino. Sadly, no extras or special features are included other than a trailer.

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