Maiku Hama (aka Mike Hama, Mike Yokohama)

Created by Kaizo Hayashi and Daisuke Tengan

It’s Hama Time!

The rundown office of Yokohama private eye MAIKU HAMA (get it?) is on the second floor of the old Nichigeki movie theatre in Yokohama, stuck between the projector and the screen, which is appropriate enough, since so much of his cinematic debut, Waga jinsei saiaku no toki (in English as “The Most Terrible Time in My Life”), a quirky Japanese detective flick, is based on old films.

It’s even filmed in noirish black and white. Hama dresses flashy and drives an old Nash Metropolitan with California plates. He serves up some tasty but terse Bogie-style voice-overs.

But, of course, this isn’t some murky American-made film noir set in the distant past of San Francisco or Los Angeles of the 1940’s here–it’s a modern day riff on those films, set in Japan in the 1990’s. So we’ve got martial arts galore, and even a little good ol’ Yakuza-style dismemberment.

When he’s approached by a Taiwanese waiter who wants the detective to track down his missing brother, all easy-going Hama really wants is to earn enough money to send his little sister to college. But Hama (played by Masatoshi Nagase) soon finds himself involved in a series of double-crosses and violent revenge as sibling rivalry erupts into a full-tilt gang war.

Waga jinsei saiaku no toki was followed by two sequels (in colour!), Harukana Jidai no Kaidan O in 1994 and the far more somber Wana in 1996.

In 2002, it became a television show in Japan, although they went through a tranformation of sort. Whereas the three original  films were sly post-modern riffs on classic hard-boiled and noir tropes, the TV series went post-post-modern, transforming Hama from a classic hard-boiled dick into an at-times-obnoxious punk rocker, decked out in Doc Martens, played if not for laughs then at least a few snickers. There were twelve episodes produced, with Masatoshi Nagase once again assuming the role (he seems to have a lock on the character, the way Peter Falk owned Columbo), but each episode featured a different director. Although each episode ran 45-55 minutes, each of the directors also delivered a feature-length ‘director’s cut’ of their installment intended for DVD release and foreign distribution. Perhaps most interesting (at least to me) was that one of the writers and directors was British “punk” director Alex Cox of Sid and Nancy/Repo Man/Straight to Hell fame.

    

WHAT’S IN A NAME?

  • Depending on which version of any of these you see, Maiku Hama may be known as “Hama Maike,” “Maiku Hama,” “Mike Hame” or even “Mike Yokohama.” The alternating names may be attributable to translations, bad mojo or even legal reasons (fear of the Spillane estate?), but rest assured, they’re all supposed to be the same guy.

UNDER OATH

  • “Though die-hard fans of 1960s Japanese B-grade crime flicks might fault the film for relying on, rather than innovating, standard-issue genre clichés – or even if you caught The Most Terrible Time in My Life when it played the 1994 San Francisco International Film Festival – Hayashi’s genre-torquing work, the first in a trilogy centered on the Maiku Hama character, makes for stylish entertainment.”
    — Cheryl Eddy (San Francisco Bay Guardian)
  • “You’ve just got to add Maiku Hama to your PI list. I mean the name alone is a hoot and a half. But despite the nifty verbal homage to Spillane, Hama often seems as if he went to PI school with Jim Rockford: He has a criminal past, a circle of likable, but still slightly crooked friends and acquaintances, and often attempts to joke and/or b.s. his way out of trouble, and of course, he has an alarming tendency to get the crap kicked out of him. The Most Terrible Time in My Life is (currently) playing in art house theaters across the country. See it if you can (I caught it myself tonight). “It ends with a trailer for the first of two Hama sequels, “Stairway To The Distant Past”, apparently not yet released in this country. I’ll be keeping an eye peeled!”
    — FRY2K (August 2000)

FILMS

  • WAGA JINSEI SAIAKU NO TOKI Buy this DVD
    (aka “The Most Terrible Time in My Life”)
    (1993, Film Detective Office/For Life Records Inc./Shutter Pictures)
    92 minutes, black and white
    Country of Origin: China/Japan/Taiwan
    Written by Kaizo Hayashi and Daisuke Tengan
    Directed by Kaizo Hayashi
    Starring Masatoshi Nagase as MAIKU HAMA
    Also starring Shirô Sano, Kiyotaka Nanbara, Yang Haitin, Hou De Jian, Akaji Maro, Shinya Tsukamoto, Jo Shishido, Haruko Wanibuchi, Kaho Minami , Mika Ohmine, Housei Kondo, Masako Miyachi, Kenji Anan, Zen Rajiwara
  • HARUKANA JIDAI NO KAIDAN OBuy this DVD
    (aka “Stairway to the Distant Past”)
    (1994, Japan)
    101 minutes
    Country of Origin: China/Japan/Taiwan
    Written by Kaizo Hayashi and Daisuke Tengan
    Directed by Kaizo Hayashi
    Starring Masatoshi Nagase as MAIKU HAMA
    Also starring.Kiyotaka Nanbara, Haruko Wanibuchi, Shirô Sano, Eiji Okada, Tetta Sugimoto, Mika Ohmine, Shinya Tsukamoto, Jo Shishido, Keiji Matsuda, Akaji Maro, Kazuko Shirakawa, Sumiko Sakamoto, Noriko Sengoku, Yoichi Sai
  • WANABuy this DVD
    (aka “The Trap”)
    (1996, Japan)
    Country of Origin: China/Japan/Taiwan
    Written by Kaizo Hayashi and Daisuke Tengan
    Directed by Kaizo Hayashi
    Starring Masatoshi Nagase as MAIKU HAMA
    Also starring.Yui Natsukawa, Tomoko Yamaguchi, Kiyotaka Nanbara, Hiro Arai, Akaji Maro, Jo Shishido
  • MIKE YOKOHAMA: A FOREST WITH NO NAME
    (2002)
    71 minutes
    Based on an episode from the TV series, and characters created by Kaizo Hayashi and Daisuke Tengan
    Written and directed by Shinji Aoyama
    Starring Masatoshi Nagase as MIKE YOKOHAMA
    Also starring Kyoka Suzuki, Nene Otsuka, Yoshio Harada, Masashi Yamamoto
    This theatrical release, based on the television episode, was expanded to 71 minutes and blown up from Super 16 mm  to 35 mm.

DVD COLLECTIONS

  • MAIKU HAMA PRIVATE EYE TRILOGY | Buy this DVD set
    (2005, Kino Video)
    Contains all three films.

TELEVISION

  • SHIRITSU TANTEI HAMA MAIKU
    (aka “Mike Hama, Private Detective”)
    (2002, Nippon TV/Yomiuri Television)
    12 45-55 minute episodes
    Based on characters created by Kaizo Hayashi and Daisuke Tengan
    Writers: Shinji Aoyama, Kaizo Hayashi, Alex Cox, Kenji Aoki, Tetsuya Nakashima
    Directors: Shinji Aoyama,Alex Cox, Kôji Hagiuda, Sogo Ishii, Ryô Iwamatsu, Ryôsuke Maeda, Tetsuya Nakashima, Akira Ogata, Gô Rijû, Hideaki Sunaga, Suguru Takeuchi, Isao Yukisada
    Theme song by Ego Wrappin’
    Starring Masatoshi Nagase as MIKE HAMA

    • “A Fable of 31” (2002)
    • “Namae no nai mori” (2002)
    • “Shiritsu tantei Hama Maiku: Namae no nai mori” (2002)
      (aka “Maiku Yokohama: A Forest with No Name”)
    • “Mike Hama, Private Detective: Mike Hama Must Die!” (2002)
    • “Mike Hama, Private Detective: Mr. Nippon-21st Century Man” (2002)
    • Seven others.
Report respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. Special thanks to FRY2K for the heads up.
Photo is of Masatoshi Nagase as Hama in The Most Terrible Time of My Life.

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