Cult helmer Takashi Miike is like a little boy with a short attention span who’s got lots of toys to play with: Sticking to just one would be boring, right? For those who agree — and there are plenty — Miike’s second pic of 2013, “The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji,” will be right up their alley. Firmly set in the director’s cartoonish mode, this nonstop action-comedy about an inept police mole busting Japan’s biggest drug ring wears its manga roots with pride, overstuffed with kooky characters behaving in a suitably exaggerated manner. A skedded February 2014 local release will likely go boffo.
Chances offshore are certainly greater than those of Miike’s earlier Cannes-preemed “Shield of Straw,” since “Mole Song” dishes out generous portions of the outre silliness that the director’s fans crave. Ancillary will also reap considerable benefits, especially as the final frames set viewers up for a sequel. Considering the source manga is in its 35th volume, Miike’s part deux must surely already be in the planning stage.
Things kick off with the rapid-fire editing of a trailer, with Reiji Kikukawa (Toma Ikuta, “The Fallen Angel”) strapped naked (but for a strategically placed newspaper) to the hood of a car racing at top speed. It’s the kind of full-on, full-steam-ahead scene that either grabs the audience and keeps them howling until the finish line, or leaves them stone cold.
Rookie Reiji was fired for being the most inept cop on the force, but his bosses immediately rehire him as an undercover agent, since no one would suspect such a bungling flatfoot of being a plant. His mission: to infiltrate the Sukiya-kai, Japan’s most nefarious yakuza clan. After being subjected to a series of tests by the police to guarantee his resolve (such as the naked-on-a-car scene), they send him off to make contact with the gangsters, serenaded by the semi-catchy, frequently recurring “Mole Song.”
Various clans are at each others’ throats: Reiji becomes a favorite of butterfly-obsessed Masaya Hiura (Shinichi Tsutsumi, “Why Don’t You Play in Hell?”), chief of a Sukiya-kai affiliate, and an induction ceremony is arranged in which he’ll be a made man. Complications arise when rival yakuzas, led by Issei Nekozawa (Takashi Okamura, styled like a bald, vampiric Paul Williams with diamond-covered teeth), try to take over, and Reiji has to protect his gang from their enemy’s leopard-spotted hitman Kenta Kurokawa (Yusuke Kamiji).
Following the ins and outs isn’t really a requirement, since Miike can’t stay focused on any plot strand for more than five minutes. There’s a love interest for the unexpectedly virginal Reiji in the form of policewoman Junna (Riisa Naka), but the role is more of an afterthought and Naka (“Mitsuko Delivers”) is wasted. The helmer’s biggest investment is in action and laughs, preferably via silly sight gags, like Reiji’s enormous blonde cockatoo crest of hair and the generally outlandish overacting. Noboru Takahashi’s “The Mole Song” has no pretensions of being one of the more intellectual mangas, and the film adaptation similarly makes “Dick Tracy” seem like Sartre.
Pacey editing keeps scenes barreling forward from one relentless chase to another, slapping the over-active visuals together in a style that Miike’s made his own. Production designer Yuji Hayashida (“13 Assassins”) must have had a ball bringing the cartoon stylings to life.