Unless you live in Japan (or a local film fest gets extremely lucky), it's virtually impossible to review Takashi Miike's "latest" film. Even though the man has slowed down his pacing considerably, there are always newer releases by the time his films hit the West. Anyway, The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji [Mogura no Uta - Sennyu Sosakan: Reiji] is among his latest films and it's probably his greatest work since 46-Okunen no Koi. Welcome back, Miike.
It's definitely not the first time Miike set out to adapt an existing franchise. Yokai Daisenso and Ichimei are both film remakes, Ace Attorney is based on a popular video game and when it comes to manga and anime Miike has Crows Zero, Crows Zero 2, For Love's Sake, Like a Dragon, and Yattaman in his portfolio. The Mole Song (a lauded manga series) is merely the latest to enjoy the full Miike treatment.
I haven't read the manga so it's hard to say with 100% certainty, but it definitely feels like Miike made the source material his own (again). The Mole Song has Miike written all over it, to the point where it almost plays like a 25-year best-off compilation. There are so many typical moments of weirdness, over-the-top craziness, and flat-out insanity that there's never a dull or boring moment in this 130-minute crime comedy.
The film follows Reiji, a low-ranking officer whose inconspicuous profile makes him a perfect candidate for becoming a mole. He is fired from the corpse, given a quick undercover agent training, and sent out to infiltrate a major Yakuza clan. His mission: uncover the person behind large drug shipments that are plaguing Japan. It doesn't take long before Reiji gets in too deep, what follows is a pleasant take on classical Yakuza folklore (not quite unlike Katsuhito Ishii's Smuggler.
If there's one big change in Miike's output compared to 15 years ago, it's that his films look a whole lot better. Miike has always had an eye for powerful images, but he often lacked the money to make it happen. Those days are clearly over, yet it's reassuring to see this didn't make him lazy. From the paper-cut dreams and flashbacks in the beginning to the moody and atmospheric finale, there's always happening something interesting on the screen.
As for the soundtrack, it feels like Miike took a few cues from Sion Sono's films. Pompous, classical-sounding music is used for comedic effect. Nothing too extreme or memorable, but it works well enough and it lends the film a pleasant, silly vibe. The titular song too is fun and amusing, even providing some good laughs. All in all, it's a decent soundtrack, just don't expect anything too special.
Toma Ikuta may be headlining this film, it's Shinichi Tsutsumi's presence that really caught my eye. It also got me thinking about which famous/respected Japanese actor hasn't appeared in a Miike film before. Apart from maybe Shinobu Terajima, I came up with nothing. With great supporting roles for Ken'ichi Endo (Bizita Q), Susumu Terajima (Nintama Rantaro), Riisa Naka (Zebraman 2), and Ren Osugi Miike got himself an all-star cast perfectly suited for this kind of film.
Like most 2h+ Miike films, The Mole Song does slow down from time to time. Where these moments used to drag though, Miike has somewhat overcome this weakness. The overall rise in quality of his films has made these moments a lot easier to stomach. On the other hand, I do feel he could've easily cut 10 to 15 minutes out of the middle part without hurting the film as a whole. Once the finale gets going though, these moments are quickly forgotten and the final 30 minutes are simply genius.
There's enough madness here to fill 3 or 4 separate films. The dream/flashback sequences at the start are awesome, the mole training (including the titular song) is hilarious, and the villains are plain creepy and weird. It's a vintage Miike with bazookas and manga-like jumps, crazy Yakuza gangs, and a complete disregard for the normal. There is nobody like Miike when it comes to cranking out entertaining films and this film delivers in spades. If you're a fan of wacky Miike, The Mole Song is sure to satisfy your craving.