OK, it really has been too long. Time for some new content methinks. And what better way to get on the review train than by having a look at a Takashi Miike movie from a couple of years ago. It’s fairly redundant to say they guy is prolific, although not all his films make their way to the West. This one is yet another Manga adaptation of a Manga I have never read. But clearly that hasn’t stopped me before, so without further waffle, let’s move on.
In “The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji” our titular hero Reiji (Tôma Ikuta) is introduced as a committed albeit fairly hopeless Policeman. His attempt to arrest a local dignitary for an act of sleaze is the final straw, and he is fired. Except, it turns out his superiors have a secret plan for Reiji, to get him to become a mole in the local Yakuza organisation. After a break-neck initiation into the world of being an undercover agent (in which he is strapped naked to the bonnet of a car, asked to kill a fellow agent and learn the special song), be starts his process of ingratiation. He befriends Papillion (Shinichi Tsutsumi), the butterfly obsessed number 2, who is impressed by Reiji’s sheer brass, and they bond over the fact they both hate drugs. His mission is further complicated by the suspicions of the son of the mob’s leader (Takayuki Yamada) and Nekozawa (Takashi Okamura) the cat-crazy leader of another clan. Oh, and he somehow has to balance this while trying to lose his virginity to the unknowing Policewoman Junna (Riisa Naaka).
This one is a crazy, technicolor, noisy ride. MIkke really has a skill at bringing the unlikely source material to life. It is a comedy, and it’s fun to see the director play around with the Gangster/Yakuza tropes that he used to have so much fun with much earlier in his career. What is more impressive is that whilst it still clocks in at around 2 hours, this is the first film by Miike I have not thought could do with being trimmed by at least 20 minutes for a long long time. This is because there is a decent story to go along with the crazy antics, and it really feels like there is a beginning, a middle and an end.
You however will have to get past the gurning overacting of Tôma Ikuta to get the most from this one though. He is playing the lead role in a very over-the-top way, which I know will be a complete turn off for some western viewers. And you might feel the same way about Takashi Okamura’s cat-themed aggressor. But switch your mind to pantomime mode, and I think most of the audience will cope just fine.
On the other hand, Shinichi Tsutsumi plays his part fairly straight, with what I would call a knowing gravitas. It matches his character rather well, and means that when something fairly awful happens to him late on in the film you actually give a damn. Only Riisa Naaka appears clearly lacking in things to do, although she does get a rather humorous sex scene, and she has a natural charm.
The film is like a big neon lit cartoon for the most part, with the humour being mostly in the realms of slapstick. The fights are fun, and frankly you should not take things too seriously. But I challenge you not to enjoy moments such as Reiji’s initiation, his agonising virginty-popping moment, or the over the top moments of Yakuza bravado.
On the other hand, the film does manage to tug on the heartstrings when the bromance between Papillon and Reiji causes one to get badly hurt, and the sequence poking fun at the Yakuza graduation ceremony is side-slitting in a much more measured way (although Tôma Ikuta is still hamming it up!!).
At the end of the day, this is probably not a film that will get on any best-of-Miike lists – it isn’t terribly extreme, and it is fairly light fare. It also would not really work as a gateway film to a new audience. The humour is fairly broad, and the nature of the acting would probably put off the neophyte. But I totally adored it. It made me laugh and I was not looking at my watch waiting for it to end. I am going to give it a Highly Recommended.