Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Re: Mike Hama - The Trap (Wana, 1996)

Flash forward a while after the tumultuous events at the end of Stairway To The Distant Past, and it seems like good ol' Mike Hama's worries are a thing of the past. Yokohama's chinpira boy scout has had himself one heck of a run as of late. Not only does his business seems to have revived in a big way with a more than ample client list, his sister is entering college at last, and to top it off, the stylish sleuth has himself a girlfriend! And yet despite all of this fortune, things also couldn't seem more forboding in this, Hayashi's unexpectedly dour finale to his one of a kind postmodern trilogy where Hama's entire world is on the brink of being torn asunder by a most sinister force.

Hama is now at a point in his fledgling career that he finds himself able to turn down jobs if he sees fit. And after he turns down a most eerie visitor with a bizarre request, matters soon take on terrible implications as his name and reputation come at odds with his success. It is to the point that unlike previous scrapes with gangs and politicians, it is the most unseen of the city that bring about the worst of our hero's troubles. Even as local police are stymied by not only shabby work, but in falsified evidence, bodies are piling up with a nasty M.O., and shows no signs of ceasing. What's a Yokohama private eye with a checkered past to do?

Kaizo Hayashi and writer Daisuke Tengan return for one last cinematic go-round foregoes the often lighthearted tones of the previous installments' first thirds, and stares (almost a bit too deeply) into a spiritual abyss as their characters are faced with adversaries that are nowhere near as transparent as the hoods of the past. As they conspire to make Hama's life into a living nightmare, it is also apparent that they may not even be cognizant enough to carry through beyond a neverending search for a mother figure to suite their needs. That's right, psychosis is at the very center of this episode's plotline, and while it indeed makes for an interesting swerve for the series, it ultimately never feels natural to the entire world Hayashi & Tengan have created. They have allowed real life events to seep into the mythos, which indeed has its effective moments. The problem here is that like so many psycho-thrillers of the past, it takes a very generalized slant by creating villains that are in no way endearing, but definitely worthy of more complexity. So what Wana ends up being, is a wacky detective tale hijacked by an overall lack of foresight, and possibly hope.

Almost humourously enough, a lot of what is happening to our plucku protagonist can be paraphrased in his newly flowering relationship with the virtually-mute, Yuriko(Yui Natsukawa). As lucky a guy as Maiku is, Yuriko, happens to be a deeply devoted christian, and ready to make a good, honest boy out of him. She disapproves of his gambling, drinking, and just about every other thing that makes him the likeable scamp he is. The entire piece plays up the notion that Hama's luck is double-sided. For all the good things happening, it is at the price of things innately alien to his being. And this also plays heavily into the more serious implications throughout the remaining running time. Where this goes wrong, is in how disproportionate it all is. When we see how heavy things can get, it borders on overbearing.

Tone-wise, Wana is easily the series' most hazy as the story attempts to infuse bit of the trademark humor alongside the really dark material that threatens to derail the entire affair. To a certain extent, the whole thing flirts heavily with a lot of what would eventually become associated with the J-horror boom of the latter end of the decade. Tengan's script definitely shares many quiet, creepy scenes that almost hint at his work with Takashi Miike. The film's tone also seems to play out commisurate with Japan's overall weariness in the days of 1995, after several months of disaster as evidenced by Shishido in a scene. A final chapter almost subsumed by tragedy, Hama's theatrical swan song is akin to skirting the fringes of nostalgia, while simultaneously being sucked into a black hole borne of a day where domestic terrors were far too powerful.


  1. OK, you've sold me. I'm putting all three films on my Netflix list. =D

    I feel like watching some atmospheric dark urban stories set in Japan like the Hama series. I watched a lot of movies like that until I rented Noriko's Dinner Table which, if you haven't seen it, is the single most disturbing Japanese movie EVER. I stopped renting Japanese movies for years after seeing that one (lol).

  2. Ah! So I take it you have yet to experience other films from Sion Sono, such as Cold Fish? Recently reviewed it, and it pales to Dinner Table. Yes. While not perfect films, the Hama series is something I wouldn't mind seeing more of as a tv series, or extended movie series with a new case every few years.

  3. I can't believe any film could be more horrifying than Noriko's Dinner Table, which makes you despair for humankind after a single viewing.

    Cold Fish, you say? I may have to be masochistic and put it on my list. ;)