The Mole Song -- Undercover Agent Reiji: Rome Review

Takeshi Miike hits a home run with an irresistible cops and yakuza romp starring Toma Ikuta.

A blockbuster comic book series from Japan leaps to the screen via director Takeshi Miike.

ROME -- No one is going to fall asleep during The Mole Song – Undercover Agent Reiji (Mogura no uta – sennyu sosakan: Reiji), two hours of pure energy from Japan’s prolific if uneven bad-boy director Takeshi Miike. An all-stops-out cops vs. yazuka farce featuring the director’s usual day-glow colors, outrageous costumes and high-volume sound effects, its humor sometimes tips over into full-on exotica, but its kooky invention never stops for breath.

Possibly because Kankuro Kudo’s screenplay is based on a cult manga by Noboru Takahashi, the film has a more sustained and logical -- if that’s the word -- narrative than a lot of the director’s work. Nor is its kooky appeal limited to teenagers. It was a bold and welcome change-of-pace in Rome competition and should soar along with its ever-growing fan base in Japan, where Shogakukan’s manga series has already sold more than 4 million comics.

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Miike’s intuition that filmmaking need have no preconceived limits serves him well in creating the surreal universe of highly incompetent rookie cop Reiji Kikukawa (an unrecognizable Toma Ikuta from the psychological thriller The Brain Man.) His stubborn streak of honesty and do-gooding get the idealistic young crusader fired after he tries to arrest a city councilor caught in the act of molesting a teenage girl. In reality, his superiors have decided to send him on what amounts to a suicide mission as an undercover infiltrator into a powerful yakuza clan. But first, they subject him to one test after another in which he is beaten up, tied naked to the hood of a car and driven around at top speed, forced to shoot another cop, etc. Then everyone on the force stomps together, singing The Mole Song in an irresistibly kitschy moment of weird bliss.

This is just the beginning of Reiji’s career. Given a new look in a leopard coat and matching accessories that would make Cab Calloway wince, he begins to make his way up the underworld ladder. He soon finds favor with Crazy Papillon, the No. 2 gangster who wears little butterflies all over this coat (Shinichi Tsutsumi, recently seen playing the good-looking yakuza in Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell?). Like Reiji, he hates drugs, and insists that his gang doesn’t deal. Together they face a number of sticky situations that include combating the diamond-toothed “cat” Nekozawa (the glittering Takashi Okamura is a howl) and his merciless cat-men.  

Without losing sight of his mission to halt the drug lords and bring the crime syndicate’s big cheese to justice, Reiji evolves through series of outré looks and passes the impossible loyalty tests of the yakuza, becoming one of them. He even finds the time to lose his virginity to policewoman Junna (Riisa Naaka) before facing a final whopper battle on the waterfront.

The film’s over-the-top comic book characters who never die or even get seriously hurt, even after being hit by a ton of bricks, recall the style of the silly Zebraman films which also paired director Miike and screenwriter Kankuro Kudo. But this is a far superior genre spoof in terms of character and tongue-in-cheek humor.

Flailing his enemies and shouting at the top of his lungs, Toma Ikuta turns Reiji into a cop worth caring about, however ridiculous his clothes, hairstyle and posing. His relationships have a true human dimension, particularly his blood-brother ties to the cool, fun-loving Papillon whom Shinichi Tsutsumi portrays with such warm abandon. A blond Takayuki Yamada (Lesson of the Evil) plays the boss’ young heir with straight, sad-eyed seriousness.  

Nonstop action keeps the wheels spinning at a generally frantic pace, though there are a few quieter scenes like a stately yakuza initiation ceremony (the cup of sake) that Reiji completely blows. It gives cinematographer Nobuyasu Kita a break from the pop craziness that pervades the rest of the film and a chance to slip in a moment of Japanese classicism.

Venue: Rome Film Festival (out of competition), Nov. 15, 2013
Production companies: Fuji Television Network, OLM, Shogakukan, J Storm
Cast: Toma Ikuta, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Riisa Naka, Takayuki Yamada, Takashi Okamura, Yusuke Kamji, Mitsuru Fukikoshi, Kenichi Endou, Sarutoki Minagaa, Ren Ohsugi, Koichi Iwaki
Director: Takeshi Miike
Screenwriter: Kankuro Kudo, based on the manga by Noboru Takahashi  
Producers: Juichi Uehara, Misako Saka, Shigeji Maeda

Executive producers:Takashi Ishihara, Shinichiro Tsuzuki, Keiko Julie Fujishima, Minami Ichikawa, Toshiaki OkunoDirector of photography: Nobuyasu Kita
Production designer: Yuji Hayashida
Editor: Kenji Yamashita
Music: Koji Endo
Sales Agent: Pony Canyon
No rating, 120 minutes.