The Trap

Hapless Yokohama p.i. Maiku Hama is back in another seriocomic adventure, his third, supposedly last, and weakest --- though director Kaizo Hayashi's series still offers some stylish diversion. Despite the expected hip, idiosyncratic air, offshore prospects look minor. Still operating out of an office behind a movie theater's projection booth, Maiku Hama (Masatoshi Nagase) is unusually flush at this chapter's start. Biz is good, and he's got a steady girlfriend in the mute Yuriko (Yui Natsukawa), whose fervent Christianity provides just a minor stumbling block.

With:
Hama Maiku/ Mikki ...Masatoshi Nagase Yuriko... Yui Natsukawa Mizuki... Tomoko Yamaguchi Hoshino... Kiyotaka Nanbara Kozu ...Tetsuta Sugimoto Joe Shishido ...Himself Father... Shiro Sano Akane... Mika Omine Nakayama... Akaji Maro

But a new case inevitably pulls Maiku into its web. Women are being found around the city, their lifeless, evidently poisoned bodies festooned with elaborate makeup and full-length floral dresses. Worse, Maiku’s own fingerprints are being planted on evidence. We soon suspect a connection to Mikki (Nagase again), a retarded teen whom Yuriko befriends at her church-volunteer job. Mikki’s sister and caretaker, Mizuki (Tomoko Yamaguchi), becomes the obvious key. A well-liked factory worker by day, she moonlights abducting young women in a twisted ritual whose full import is revealed after much mayhem.

All this treads rather close to conventional, distasteful sexploitation-thrillerdom, complete with Freddy Krueger-type getup and an absurd, attenuated “surprise” climax in a drainage tunnel. Use of schizophrenia as a plot device feels retro, in the mode of umpteen lurid 1960s “Psycho” rip-offs. Hard to swallow for different reasons is the syrupy romance with ever-imperiled Yuriko, whose disability makes her as patly angelic as Mikki’s at last renders him demonic.

Nonetheless, pic remains watchable — albeit sans the overall bravado of Maiku Hama’s debut in “The Most Terrible Time of My Life,” or the stylistic highs of subsequent “Stairway to the Distant Past.” Brief, quick-cut yellow-tinted sequences (supposedly showing Mikki’s thought patterns) are striking.

As in earlier adventures, Maiku himself gets surprisingly modest screen time. Best supporting characters are comic, with a promising new figure in earnest young police detective Kozu (Tetsuta Sugimoto), who has the ill luck to be partnered with Maiku’s old police nemesis, Nakayama (Akaji Maro). Latter’s bottomless sour-mash bluster is summed up by the comment, “While I was drunk this country’s gone to the dogs!”

Perfs are good, pacing OK, wide-screen color lensing sharp. Yet the perfunctory feel “Trap” emits compared with its predecessors suggests director/co-writer Hayashi may be well finished with this planned trilogy.

The Trap

Japanese

Production: A For Life Records presentation of an Ace Pictures production. Produced by Shunsuke Koga, Kaizo Hayashi, Tsutomu Sakurai. Executive producer, Yutaka Goto. Directed by Kaizo Hayashi. Screenplay, Hayashi, Dasuke Tengai.

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Yuichi Nagata; editor, Nombuko Tomita; lighting, Meicho Tomiyama; music, Meina Co.; production design, Takeo Kimura; costumes, Masae Miyamoto. Reviewed at AMC Kabuki 8, San Francisco, April 2, 1997. (In S.F. Film Festival.) Running time: 106 MIN.

With: Hama Maiku/ Mikki ...Masatoshi Nagase Yuriko... Yui Natsukawa Mizuki... Tomoko Yamaguchi Hoshino... Kiyotaka Nanbara Kozu ...Tetsuta Sugimoto Joe Shishido ...Himself Father... Shiro Sano Akane... Mika Omine Nakayama... Akaji Maro

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