Takashi Miike works at a rate that is as prolific as it is uneven, usually directing multiple movies per year, in a wide range of styles from comedies to family films to straight ahead police procedurals (like the dreadful Cannes Competition entry “Shield Of Straw“). And so, it’s never quite certain which Miike you’ll get with each film — the committed genre filmmaker ripping pages from the rulebook or the workmanlike director doing a gig to pay next month’s mortgage. The manga adaptation “The Mole Song – Undercover Agent Reiji” finds Miike in a third mode, not quite reinventing the wheel, but simply having a blast with the material, mixing styles and creating something so outlandish it’s much easier to roll with it than put up any kind of resistance.
And Miike doesn’t waste a moment. ‘The Mole Song’ opens with with our titular lead, Reiji (Ikuta Tôma), strapped to the hood of car completed naked (except for a well placed piece of newspaper), being driven at top speeds around the city. There’s a couple of things you’ll get to know about him. Firstly, he’s a cop recently fired from the force because his zeal to bring down lawbreakers saw him get on the wrong side of a pervy city council member. However, his boss thinks he’s the right man to go undercover to bring down a notorious criminal syndicate who are pushing drugs on the street. Also, Reiji is a virgin, which lends his generally intense attitude a texture of pure sexual frustration. And so, after passing a series of tests (in one of the film’s best early running gags), Reiji puts on a ridiculously loud leopard print suit, and gets to work.
Aided with the rules of working as a mole, provided to him in song by his colleagues and superiors (another of the film’s great bits), Reiji quickly manages to get himself under the wing of the butterfly loving, second in gangster command, Crazy Papillon (Shinichi Tsutsumi), become an enemy of the cat obsessed, frequently meowing and glitter toothed Nekozawa (Takashi Okamura), and rubbing shoulders in general with an equally, amusingly oddball bunch of bad guys and lowlives, including the tattooed hitman Kenta Kurokawa (Yusuke Kamiji). And as his work takes him deeper into the underworld, Reiji isn’t necessarily concerned about staying alive, so much as being discovered and dying a virgin. And his puritanical approach to law and order matches his approach to sex because he wants his first time to be with someone he loves, in particular naive colleague Junna (Riisa Naka). He’s certainly got a lot on his mind.
Pitched to a level of near camp, ‘The Mole Song’ is as visually loud (lots of neon and bright garish colors, starting with Reiji’s hair) as it is tonally over-the-top, with Miike slinging jokes at the rate he would fire bullets in one of his yakuza films. But the director often gets in the way himself. Running needlessly over two hours long, the plot becomes unnecessarily involved particularly in the latter third, and attempts at more dramatic scenes often sit uneasily with the rest of the film. But Miike keeps viewers engaged on pure energy alone, and just when you think the pace might begin to sag or the film buckle under the weight of its frequent hysterics, another terrific sequence comes along that jolts everything back into place. And moreover, the filmmaker knows how to build to a climax, with a waterfront setpiece that manages to involve both cute dogs and nearly Marvel movie levels of action, with everyone seemingly invincible within an all around brawl between rival gangs, and the cops, all at once.
While not of his finest efforts, ‘The Mole Song’ nonetheless makes the case that at 53 years old, Miike is still one of Japan’s most fascinating and exciting directors. But he alone doesn’t earn the credit for the success of this one. That falls on the shoulders of Tôma who makes look easy, what is a very tricky comedic performance that’s not only difficult to pull off, but to sustain for an entire movie, particularly when you’re on screen for nearly all of it. The carnival universe of ‘The Mole Song’ rotates entirely about Reiji, and Tôma makes his principled Reiji heroic, sweet-natured, relentless and go-for-broke all at once, infusing the character with such youthful conviction, that it’s impossible not to root for him. And for the film too. [B]