IDEA WAS MIKE HAMA?
ALEX: There were apparently three features
made about the Yokohama private eye whose office is in a cinema. They
were directed by Kaizo Hayashi, I think, and starred Nasatoshi
Yomiuri Television apparently liked the
trilogy enough to make it into a TV series of twelve episodes,
and to shoot them on film, which is pretty unusual for a TV show. I
directed the penultimate one.
AND HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED?
I was invited by Akira Okano, who is Mr. Nagase's manager and
one of the series producers; and Kuniaki Negishi who is my distributor
and best friend in Japan.
CAN YOU SPEAK JAPANESE?
Not at all. Nihongo wa hanasemasen.
HAD YOU WORKED IN JAPAN BEFORE?
We shot part of THREE BUSINESSMEN there,
so I knew some cast and crew members already. And most
of the KUROSAWA interviews were done there.
WHAT WAS THE MOST DIFFICULT PART?
The script. I was first shown a screenplay which involved
Mike Hama falling in love with an American or European woman. There
wasn't much plot involved. The episode was called "Woman
Man, Man Woman." I was very keen to shoot something
in Japan - especially in Yokohama which is a smaller, older city
than Tokyo, highly cinematic. But I couldn't see what to
do with the script.
The producers were very kind -- they said "just take it and
rewrite it." I proposed an episode in which Milk's sister
was kidnapped while on the Beatles Tour of Liverpool and Mike and
Milk had to go to England to rescue her. But the producers
felt that, having built an elaborate set for Mike Hama's office
in Yokohama, they wanted to shoot the episode there.
I didn't know what to do. Then I came down with a ghastly
cold which kept me indoors, at home, for two days. I had
another crack at the pages they'd sent me. The network didn't
like the European character speaking English anyway, so I got rid
of her and wrote a part for my friend Tomorrow Taguchi -- Karasu,
the Man With The Crow.
Mr. Nagase had told me that he wanted my episode to be like STRAIGHT
TO HELL, so I included two exaggerated Spaghetti Western showdowns.
On the eve of the shoot it turned out he hadn't wanted Spaghetti
Western stuff at all -- by STRAIGHT TO HELL,
he had meant a film with special guests from the film and rock & roll world! This
is one of the aspects of MIKE HAMA: at one point they wanted us to have two
bands playing in the 46-minute episode, but we compromised on one, the very
good Tokyo Ska Paradise Orchestra.
ARE YOU PLEASED WITH THE WAY IT ALL TURNED OUT?
It's a bit of a Curate's Egg, but I find
it very entertaining, even though it's still called "Man Woman, Woman Man" in
one version and "Mike Hama Must Die!" in another (there
are two versions - the TV episode with a generic title sequence
and commercial breaks, and the continuous, DVD version.)
I was delighted with some of the performances: in particular Milk,
Karasu, and Amami -- played by the director of IRON MAN, a.k.a.
TETSUO, Shinya Tsukamoto.
It was quite difficult merging my Spaghetti/Karasu
stuff with the somewhat sentimental scenes involving Mike and
the many series regulars. But I think this was the same for all
the directors. Ishii
Sogo, who directed Episode 6 of HAMA MIKE, told me he felt a bit
constrained by the need to include so many regulars.
But his episode is a very good one -- like McGoohan's THE PRISONER
merged with a particularly pessimistic video game.
He handled the regulars very well, I thought. And
when I came to directing their scenes I found I liked some of
the series regulars very much - Mint and Noriko are so funny
and sexy, and Miwako Ichikawa (who plays Milk) is one of the
most beautiful actors I've ever seen.
WAS THE SHOOTING PROCESS DIFFICULT?
Not at all. I had a fantastic translator, Asako Fujioka,
and an inspiring first assistant director, Yoshikazu Sugiyama. The
two of them made sure that everything I wanted came to pass. Most
of the actors understood some English so we could communicate. I
knew the script, so I could tell what they were supposed to be
talking about: and you can always tell if someone's concentration
It was the same in the camera department. Tom
Richmond had an ace bilingual assistant - a feature cameraman
in his own right, Jun Fukumoto, and a brilliant gaffer, Yuji
Wada, whose English is better than mine.
Even where we had no common language - my
relationship with Mr. Nakase, the fight arranger for example
- the work turned out immaculate. Mr. Nakase is an intense, no-nonsense,
action director, and I deferred to him. Our common language
WHAT WAS THE MOST FUN?
The actors, as always - especially the guys who played Karasu,
Amami, and Milk.
And working with Tom Richmond (a.k.a. Whitey
Don King) after so many years apart on different continents. In the bus to the
set, one of the crew people asked us, "So, Richmond-san and
Cox-san, according to the IMDB you have been working together for
twenty five years!" Aghast, we both denied it... but it was
true. Tom and I first worked together on student films at
UCLA back in 1977 - 25 bloomin' years ago!
Tom is the best American cameraman, bar none. Between
Len Gowing, Whitey and Abraham Haile Biru, I am cinematically
sorted for the rest of my career.
It was also delightful getting so much good score from Dan Wool/Pray
for Rain - via email! - and fitting it to the picture with Mr.
And of course it is always an inspiration and a delight to work
with Mr. Nagase.
WOULD YOU WORK IN JAPAN AGAIN?
At the drop of a hat. Just tell me where to show up. Japan
is as film-friendly as Mexico and Liverpool. And they have
better sushi and public transport!
ANY SPECIFIC PLANS?
Mr. Negishi and I are working on something
that we might do together -- some sort of weird sci-fi thing
maybe, in the sub-genre of TETSUO and ELECTRIC DRAGON 80,000
VOLTS. Same cast, same crew, if
they're available. Let's see if it comes to pass.