April 12, 2001

Cornell Cinema

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Black comedy, toy guns, cheesy acting, thrift store costuming, and horrendously illegible sub-titles. These are the beginnings of a great foreign B-movie such as The Most Terrible Time in My Life. This cinematic triumph of film mediocrity is as good as a B-film gets. It may not have nudity or Robert De Niro, but it sure has the requisite violence and humor that classifies it as grade-A gangster kitsch.

The swinging hero of this Japanese interpretation of a mobster flick is Maiku “Mike” Hama, former juvenile delinquent turned Yokohama delinquent private eye. Mike is quite the rascal with his cool clothes, slick hair, nicotine habit, and disinterested gaze. He’s the model Japanese Guy Noir, but what is Guy Noir without his leading femme fatale? Well, that’s where The Most Terrible Time in My Life begins its path straight toward B-movie land. And thank goodness, because B-movies are what cult and clever cinema is made of.

The femme fatale of Most Terrible Time is a Taiwainese waiter who lops off Mike’s finger, which is almost consumed by a slobbery dog, and then hires him to find his “lost” brother out of guilt. Maybe you translate “femme fatale” as “goofy-looking man with mole on his face” in Japanese? Regardless, it translates as one of the subtle idiosyncrasies that makes this film Tarantino-funny, and I don’t think that’s accidental. Quentin knows talent when he sees it. And it’s no accident that the high-brow humor of this 1993 low-brow Japanese film is of the same brand that tickled elitist film audiences in 1994 when Pulp Fiction debuted.