The Most Terrible Time in My Life (review)

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On the seedy side of Yokohama, Maiku “Mike” Hama (Masatoshi Nagase) — “that’s my real name” — runs a detective agency out of a rundown movie theater. He doesn’t seem to do much investigating — instead, he gets into a lot of trouble, gets called “punk” by the local cops, and gets beaten up quite a bit. When he comes to the aid of a Chinese waiter, Hai Ting (Yang Haitin), in a mah jongg parlor who’s getting harassed by yakuza thugs, Mike finds himself agreeing to help locate the waiter’s lost brother, a yakuza hitman… which draws Mike deep into a gang war that threatens to shift yakuza politics all over the East, with Taiwanese and Hong Kongese gangs in Japan — the self-proclaimed “New Japs” — killing each other like crazy. The severed fingers that abound suggest a possible inspiration in early Quentin Tarantino, though this 1993 film predates even Pulp Fiction. Shot in glorious black-and-white — faces linger in shadow, and the flicker of the silver screen invades Mike’s office — and with a hard-boiled narration provided by Our Hero, this is a timeless comedy punk noir that could be taking place anytime from the 1950s onward — Mike’s classic mini-convertible and the groovy 70s wacka-chicka score only add to the temporal displacement. But Terrible is serious fun, a B movie with an agenda: sending up Japan’s notorious xenophobia. Plus, it’s “Recommended by the Japan Association of Detective Agencies,” so it’s educational, too.

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