It’s common knowledge for any Fantasia Festival regular that an edition cannot go by without the inclusion of at least one film from notorious Japanese auteur Takashi Miike. Very often two films of his are added to the lineup, a testament to his workaholic nature as a filmmaker. Miike dips his toes into any and every genre, frequently adding shocking twists for effect. He is what one might describe as an enfant terrible of Japanese cinema. The 2014 edition of Fantasia commenced with a bang by playing one of Miike’s latest endeavours, The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji, the irony being that this is one of Miike’s ventures into comedy, just as the internationally renowned Just for Laughs festival is happening concurrently in Montreal.
The Mole Song centres around a clumsy, dim-witted undercover agent named Reiji Ikuta Kikukawa (Toma Ikuta), whom the audience meets as he is strapped to the hood of a speeding car, butt naked save for a newspaper page covering his privates. As it turns out, this is but an exercise performed by the police and the Japanese DEA to determine if Reiji is undercover material or not. It turns out that Reiji was not police officer material to begin with, least of all after a miscalculated effort to apprehend a powerful city counselor, which saw Reiji’s badge removed and him sent in as a mole into the Sukiya-kai yakuza gang. As the not-so intrepid hero infiltrates the gangland, he makes friends with an eccentric yakuza member, codename Papillon (Shinichi Tsutsumi), who will inadvertently help him bust an important drug ring.
True to his eclectic tastes, one never knows what to expect from director Miike apart from the sole guarantee that, whatever he delivers, it most likely contains a handful of bizzare, morbid, sexually provocative (although not always mature) content. Lesson of the Evil, which played at the 2013 edition of the festival, features an extended school shooting sequence in which a dumbfounding number of teenagers are seen hiding in fear, pleading for their lives and being shot to smithereens. The Mole Song is a completely different beast, one that doesn’t take itself seriously in the slightest. Miike serves up a platter of scenes that have one goal and one goal only: to produce good old-fashioned belly laughs. Of course, this being a Miike film, the angle taken to amuse the viewer is anything but old-fashioned, reverting to the overtly silly, occasionally shocking and, in one instance, rather grotesque.
To be honest, this latest effort is very much a hodgepodge of various ideas intended to provoke shock and awe, all cobbled together to make a two-hour long festival of insanity. In other words, Miike and the writers throw everything they can think of at the wall and leave it up to the audience to see what sticks and what doesn’t. With a film that tosses in gags, both visual and verbal, at the rapid pace evidenced here, it comes as no surprise that not everything lands. For what it’s worth, however, there is a dash of wit to some of the comedy. A running gag about how the police examine Reiji’s aptitude for undercover duty is one of the early highlights, as are some other punchlines that demonstrate that some minimal thought went into the dialogue. For those in seek of more ‘off the wall’ antics, The Mole Song is filled to the brim with them. It would seem though that most of the jokes serve not one but two purposes. The first and more obvious of the two is to entertain on a visceral level as all good comedies should, whereas the second is the cover up the fact that there is no interesting plot to follow. What little story the film provides is run-of-the-mill material about an undercover cop finding himself in too deep whilst struggling with preserving friendships in his real life. At the very least, the movie can hang onto that bit of story, but, generally speaking, it feels quite superfluous and merely an excuse for Miike and his troop to monkey around.
Another point that should be stressed is the visuals. This being the cinematic translation of a manga, the movie possesses a very comic book-like look, brandishing vibrant colours and superbly wild set designs that feel at home in as silly a film as this one. Even when a gag falls flat on its face, there is typically something interesting to look at. On the flip side, even though this is not an action movie per se, the high octane moments viewers do get are extremely pedestrian. Coming from the man who directed one of the best action films of the past few years, 13 Assassins, it comes as a bitter disappointment to witness yawn-inducing fisticuffs where the camera appears too slow to follow the action. Such instances are not edited to bits and pieces as cheaply made actioners are often guilty of, but rather look terrible because by the time the camera has caught up with the recipient of a punch or kick, he is already lying on the ground. It’s a very odd filmmaking technique and is clearly a method of covering up the fact that the actors involved are not stunt men, and therefore sneaky cinematography techniques are required to create the illusion of intense battles.
The Mole Song is not Miike’s best effort, not by a long shot. It has the zany energy required to retain the viewer’s attention for the full running time and tries so many different types of gags that eventually something will tickle one’s funny bone. It is absolutely messy, even discombobulated to a degree, but it makes for a decent diversion. Even so, those exploring Miike’s filmography have more important stops to make.
— Edgar Chaput