“I get 50,000 Yen a day, plus expenses,” growls tough-talking detective Maiku “Mike” Hama (Masatoshi Nagase) in The Stairway to the Distant Past, the second part of director Kaizo Hayashi’s stylish modern-day Japanese film noir trilogy. Picking up where The Most Terrible Time in My Life left off, Stairway delivers a knockout combination of widescreen color visuals and savvy pulp storytelling more luridly violent, outrageously ironic and sincerely affecting than its predecessor.
Broke, his vintage Nash convertible repossessed, private eye Mike Hama is reduced to combing the mean streets of the Yokohama waterfront on a borrowed bicycle. But when Lily, a beautiful stripper from out of Hama’s past, returns to town, the fuse is lit on a criminal powder keg set to blow the lid off the Yokohama underworld. Hama’s search for his long lost parents soon has him up to his neck in a simmering conspiracy pitting corrupt politicians, local Yakuza gangsters and the Taiwanese mafia against the mysterious “Man in White.” Forced to admit the truth of his past to both himself and his plucky kid sister, Hama now must discover whether private eyes are born or made — if he can just keep from getting killed first.
The Stairway to the Distant Past unites three generations of Japanese cinema icons as Masatoshi Nagase (Mystery Train) joins legendary Hiroshima mon amour art house heartthrob Eiji Okada, Seijun Suzuki muse Jo Shishido (Branded to Kill), and cult director Shinya Tsukamoto (Tetsuo) in a dazzling crime film dripping with retro gloss and irreverent post-modern cheek. –Kino
Kaizo Hayashi (林 海象, born July 15, 1957) is a Japanese film director and screenwriter. He made his directorial debut with To Sleep so as to Dream (1986). Abroad, he is best known for his neo-noir, Maiku Hama trilogy, The Most Terrible Time in My Life (1994), Stairway to the Distant Past (1995) and The Trap (1996). —Wikipedia
The second part of the Maiku Hama Private Eye Trilogy is more melancholy and low-key than the first. In this installment, Maiku's mother, the striptease artist "Sexy-Dynamite Lily" returns to Yokohama much to her son's displeasure. Meanwhile Maiku is hired by the corrupt Lt. Nakayama to investigate the yakuza's dealings on the riverfront, but Maiku soon finds himself on a collision course with the mysterious "White Man", whom his mother appears to be entangled with. Dropping the black and white film noir aesthetic from the first film, The Stairway to the Distant Past instead takes on the appearance of a French New Wave movie, especially in its use of color, space, and camerawork. Also different from the first film is that this one is less tongue-in-cheek and comedic, and spends more time studying Maiku's character and his relationships with his family. Because of this, some of the more loveable side characters from the first make more limited appearances here. The film also suffers from the usual problems any middle entry in a trilogy does, but this is still top-rate storytelling. If you loved The Most Terrible Time in My Life, definitely continue watching Maiku Hama's adventures. There is plenty of intrigue and excitement to thrill! On a side note, I have also been reading Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy over the past few weeks, and I have noticed some similarities between the two trilogies, especially in their use of post-modern elements, and in the two middle entries, color-coded characters. This has to be more than just a coincidence.