The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji
“What do yakuza need? They need to be funny.” — Masaya Hiura
Takashi Miike’s The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji (2013) (hereafter referred to as Mole Song) is an insane, absurd manga adaptation that played out of competition at the Rome Film Festival in 2013. Miike’s film is an adaptation of “Mogura no Uta” by Noboro Takahashi. Miike’s adaptation is a wild and outrageously funny crime movie that will either appease the fans of his absurd stylings or leave viewers completely befuddled.
Mole Song is about an extremely inept police officer named Reiji Kikukawa (Toma Ikuta). He graduated from police academy with the lowest scores ever recorded by the institution and works as a police constable stationed in a police box where he spends most of the time looking at pornographic magazines, annoying the female residents, and holds the record for most official complaints from citizens.
The film begins with Reiji getting fired for pulling a gun on a city councilor who he suspected took advantage of women. Reiji declines the firing which confuses his superior because it makes no sense to respond in that manner. They have a heated and somewhat idiotic debate about morals:
Police superior: We’re police. I’m your superior. I order, you obey. If I say a crow is pink, it’s pink! Right!?
Reiji: All crows are black, sir!
R: Black is black, right is right and wrong is wrong!
PS: A cop with morals? Totally inappropriate.
R: He’s no innocent bystander, he’s a criminal. Can’t you tell the difference?
Unbeknownst to Reiji, this is the first of many tests that will qualify him to become an undercover agent slated to infiltrate the most nefarious yakuza organization, Sukiya-kai, in Japan. Reiji’s moral commitment allowed him to jump through the first hoop but he will have to endure a grueling training session before he can become a mole for the police force.
Kazumi, Reiji’s private instructor puts Reiji through the ringer: strapping him to car in the nude and driving at high speeds until Reiji breaks; throwing him into another yakuza’s car while in the nude; and forcing him to decide whether to shoot a suspected undercover agent or expose himself as a mole (while in the nude).
When Reiji passes the final test he is awarded a bad boy yakuza suit from the DEA along with a “Mole Song” that beckons the audience to participate given the graphic-timing of the subtitles. Reiji’s ultimate goal is to rid Japan of drug trafficking and arrest the fourth generation boss, Shuho Todoroki.
Following this bizarre training/sing-a-long sequence, Reiji begins his mission by visiting an illegal casino run by the Akogi-Gumi, an arm of the Sukiya-kai. He meets his soon-to-be best friend in the yakuza, Masaya Hiura, who is obsessed with butterflies and comedy. Reiji makes a butterfly joke that involves stabbing himself in the stomach and then describing how he will let out the butterflies he has inside to tie a butterfly which greatly impresses Masaya.
They make a blood pact allowing Reiji to progress in his mission to be a super-elite mole in the Sukiya-kai.
After a meeting with his superiors at the batting cages, Reiji learns about MDMA, a new drug being sold to Japanese youth on the internet under the guise as diet pills. Reiji, because of his absolute love for justice, is determined to expose the Sukiya-kai’s drug operation. Reiji accompanies Masaya to the “True Love” club and is surprised to see his old-girlfriend, Junna, there working there under an alias.
She tells him that his private commander, Kazumi, told her that Reiji would be at the club. Masaya breaks up their reunion by misunderstanding their conversation and subsequently pulling out his penis to show Junna that yakuza keep their privates very clean. Meanwhile, a rival yakuza gang-leader, Issei Nekozawa (Takashi Okamura), tries to rape Junna so Reiji beats him up and calls him “bowling ball head” because Issei is bald (this is the first of numerous puns involving baldness that pepper every further encounter with Issei in Mole Song). Issei’s gang enjoys a peaceful treaty with the Sakiya-kai but was secretly ordered by his superior to start a war between the two gangs. Reiji must prevent Masaya from killing Issei to avoid starting a war so he distracts him by saying a few more puns concerning his baldness. Like Reiji and Masaya, Issei fashions himself after an animal symbol, the cat, finishing most of his sentences off with “meow” and latter, sharpening his fake, diamond teeth to points. A mole versus cat fight ensues with Reiji successfully avoiding an all out war between the two gangs.
The first act sets up a cop and gangster thriller in the vein of The Departed (2006) and Donnie Brasco (1997) in storyline and Neveldine-Taylor/Seijun Suzuki in tone and execution. Most of the high-points in Mole Song include the absurd overacting, the numerous sight-gags, the zany action set-pieces, and the impossible-to-predict storyline. For those familiar with Miike’s work, Mole Song is similar to his video game adaptation Like a Dragon (2007) and his DTV Full Metal Yakuza (1997). I especially enjoyed the visuals in the film which use don’t even try to emulate the look of film but fully utilize all of the potentials available to make every image nearly jump off the screen. The flamboyant costumes and bright neon lights in the sets are garishly photographed, not shying away from the comic book roots of the film. The frequent use of flashbacks, stream-of-consciousness cut-scenes, two-dimensional interludes and Reiji’s voice-over make this movie feel like a comic back and comes a lot closer than more popular comic book adaptations to transposing comic book storytelling methods to cinema. Miike doesn’t forgo the techniques specific to cinema and replace them comic book style images (like say Ang Lee’s Hulk (2003) or Walter Hill’s recut of The Warriors (2005) released on DVD). Miike brings comic book storytelling to cinema by using simple editing techniques that juxtapose past and present; the imaginary and reality; and dialogue with voice-over. Once more, Miike doesn’t shy away from including some of the more ridiculous elements of the source material — including Masaya being turned into a cyborg after being maimed in a shootout or the dog drug-traffickers that carry bags of MDMA strapped to their bodies as they swim to the docks in the final action set-piece.
Mole Song is one of Miike’s most entertaining films in years and one that I welcome after seeing a series of consecutive releases (13 Assassins (2010), Hara-kiri: death of a samurai (2011) and Shield of Straw (2013)) that were good but had very little if any of Miike’s off-beat comic sensibilities. This work also adds to Miike’s already rich yakuza filmography where each yakuza film he directs seemingly rewrites the rules for the genre.