Monday, February 4, 2013
Re: Mike Hama - Stairway To The Distant Past (1995)
Not too long after a certain Most Terrible Time, young private eye Mike Hama is hurting for cash, and is taking whatever jobs come his way. Things have been so dry that he has even taken to seeking lost dogs with a net on the street in hopes of helping him and his sister survive. That is until fate intervenes in the form of a long lost parent, as well as some truly nasty intrigue plaguing the Yokohama harbor. Bad luck streak aside, things are about to spiral out of control once again for our hapless sleuth. Bursting with color as promised by the original case's finale, Stairway To The Distant Past gets personal as Masatoshi Nagase's likeable individualist must contend with trouble from all sides while director Keizo Hayashi mostly sticks the landing in this second Hama feature.
Not content with merely handing Hama just another missing person case, in this go-round, people seem to be pouring out of the walls to complicate his life. Boating into Yokohama as the sakura is in full bloom, is Mike & Akane's eternally youthful showgirl of a mother(Haruko Wanibuchi). Eager to re-establish some form of connection with her son who isn't having any of this, she also signals the coming of a local gangland legend (Eiji Okada) who's very presence attracts all manner of bad attention. All of this while crooked politician, Kanno's plans for the city go from seedy to desperate. For a film with such a loaded series of plotlines, Hayashi's direction this time around is perhaps informed by the addition of color which offers up a number of almost hypnotic sequences, often giving the whole affair more of a disjointed slow burn effect.
Undoubtedly feeling tasked to heap on the visuals as the final minutes of Most Terrible Time promised a small-scale Technicolor spectacle, Hayashi does dole out some more than welcome grandness to the proceedings. There are terrific looking scenes including a memorable entrance for the film's unusual heavy as lights cut through the dark of the harbor at night, and there are some lovely images that further make Yokohama into a troubled, yet lovely looking place that seems frozen in time. To further emphasize the dramatics, there are also a decent number of stylized sets that couldn't be done the last time around. The palette has been expanded, now if only the scripting by returning Daisuke Tengan & Hayashi could find a way to make the storytelling just as sweeping. Because for all it's colorful wonders, Stairway kind of flounders. Far more content to play with new toys than to tell a compelling narrative.
Which is in no way a means of saying that this Hama adventure is worth a skip. Quite the opposite. It remains a bittersweet and borderline surreal chapter to the series that carries with it some timely (for the mid 1990s) humor, and even some interesting insights into the beginning of a generation, uncertain of its role with its forbears, not to mention less so about a foggy future. Should come as no surprise that dreams of an opulent past would find themselves flirting with the present. But what Hama and friends learn here, is that even the past is painted in troubled colors.