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MIKE HAMA MUST DIE!

 

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MIKE HAMA MUST DIE!

 

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MIKE HAMA MUST DIE!
(MIKE YOKOHAMA episode 11)

photo - Yumiko Inoue
 

WHOSE 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 Nagase.

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 lapses, say.

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 was film.

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. Yafune.

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.