Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Japan Cuts ’14 & NYAFF ’14: The Mole Song—Undercover Agent Reiji

Yakuzas do not sing, but they should be able to tell jokes. However, theme songs are a handy way to ensure undercover cops always remember their principles. I mean obviously, right? These are about the only rules that apply during The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji (trailer here), Takashi Miike’s manic adaptation of the hit manga series, which screens as a co-programmed selection of the 2014 Japan Cuts and New York Asian Film Festival.

Reiji Kikukawa is the lowest scoring patrolmen to somehow graduate from the police academy. Basically, he is an idiot, so who would suspect him of being a deep cover narc? After trying to bust a pervy city councilman, Kikukawa is summarily fired and then wink-wink rehired to infiltrate the feared Sukiya-kai clan. Kikukawa’s ultimate target is the elusive boss Shuho Todoroki, but for reasons that would not make sense to explain, the #2, Masaya Hiura (a.k.a. Crazy Papillion) quickly takes Kikukawa under his wing.

Kikukawa also takes a shine to Hiura because of the yakuza’s unyielding stand against drug trafficking. Unfortunately, someone within the organization is not so principled. Kikukawa soon feels rather confused and abandoned. Much to his frustration, being a gangster also complicates his awkward attempts to put the moves on his cute former colleague, Junna Wakagi.

Periodically, Kikukawa experiences flashbacks of his superior officers singing “The Mole Song,” which is a crime in itself. However, that sort of shameless lunacy is right in Miike’s power alley. Mole Song makes the original Police Academy look like a Noel Coward drawing room comedy. No gag is too slapsticky and no humiliation is too unlikely to inflict on Kikukawa.

Yet, he keeps plugging away, because Mole Song also has heart. You have to hand it to Toma Ikuta’s Kikukawa—there is nothing he will not do for a laugh—starting with being strapped naked spread eagle to the hood of a speeding car. Literally, that is where Miike starts. Kenta Kurokawa and Itsei Nekozawa also make quite a strong impression as feline-themed yakuza assassins, who look like CATS chorus members on crystal meth.

Riisa Naka does her level best to provide some grounding as the decent Wakagi, but she is fighting a losing battle. However, Shinichi Tsutsumi (who also plays a bonkers yakuza in Sion Sono’s Why Don’t You Play in Hell?) largely steals the show as the indomitably hardnosed Miura.

Miike seems to be having a ball trying out nutty ideas throughout Mole Song and the fun is contagious. Frankly, it is rather impressive how many of the bits successfully land. Recommended for those who want to see a madcap cartoon with live people, Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji screens tomorrow (7/10) at the Japan Society, as the opening film of this Year’s Japan Cuts: the New York Festival of Contemporary Japanese Film, co-presented by NYAFF.