Film Review: ‘The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio’

Toma Ikuta, Eita, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Tsubasa Honda, Koichi Iwaki, Nanao, Riisa Naka, Arata Furuta. (Japanese, English, Mandarin, Pidgin Cantonese dialogue)

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt5894814/

Only Nipponese cult helmer Takashi Miike can pull off a martial arts smackdown using a dripping toilet plunger as a weapon. And that’s not even the most disgusting of gags in “The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio,” the sequel to yakuza fantasia “The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji,” adapted from Noboru Takahashi’s popular manga. With trouble brewing between yakuza turncoats and encroaching Chinese gangs, the yarn boasts more visual overkill, more cartoon violence, and even less protection for protagonist Reiji’s pride-and-joy. Thanks to the storytelling technique and verbal wit of ace screenwriter (and sometime director) Kankuro Kudo (“Too Young to Die”), it’s also more emotionally engaging and skillfully paced, giving audiences a breather, at least in midsection, before the all-stops-out finale in Hong Kong. Following its world premiere at the Macau Film Festival, “Mole” should burrow into festival midnight venues and small-screen slots.

Since Miike has diversified considerably in the past decade, the “Mole” series’ pure yakuza subject matter comes closest to the cult-helmer’s roots in V-Cinema (straight-to-video films popular in the ’80s), except that the big-screen series is much glossier, and the presence of image-conscious stars and “serious actors” like Tsutumi undercut the genre’s rugged machismo. Despite the ragtag characters, sudden twists, and dizzying collage-like animated sequences, Kudo’s literate screenplay and Kenji Yamashita’s brisk editing manage to steer the main plot on course, making this one of the easiest-to-follow outings by Miike.

A turbo-charged prologue recaps events that led up to the current predicament of Reiji Kikukawa (Toma Ikuta, “The Fallen Angel”), the police force’s most incompetent cadet, who got fired for stealing lingerie, and re-hired to infiltrate Sukiya-kai, Japan’s strongest yakuza clan. If you haven’t seen part one (or even if you have), you probably wouldn’t catch the drift of this. It doesn’t matter. All you need to know is that when Reiji is made to dangle from a helicopter with just a wadded up newspaper for a fig leaf, Miike has considerably upped the ante of an iconic scene in the original in which the cop is strapped to a speeding car in equally buff fashion. The naked gag is reused for more escapades, such as a torture ritual involving a campfire BBQ, with yakuzas as ersatz boy scouts.

In the original, Reiji’s dorky bluntness endears him to his flamboyant but principled commando “Crazy Papillon” Masaya Hiura (Shinichi Tsutumi), who heads a sub-branch of Seki-ya. Now, Papillon climbs the gang’s ladder to become the heir apparent to big boss Shuho Todoroki (Koichi Iwaki, magisterial) and is ordered to bust the Dragon Skulls, an uppity Chinese gang that’s aligned with a disgraced yakuza out to get back at Seki-ya. Another force to be reckoned with is Chief Kabuto (Eita), rising star in the police force on a crusade against moles and stool pigeons.

The most enjoyable parts, however, continue to be Reiji’s blunders and sexual misadventures, even if Ikuta’s hyperventilating performance looks like someone’s strapped a taser to his pants. Appointed as personal bodyguard to Todoroki, he soon finds he’s the one who needs protection — from the voracious advances of Todoroki’s wife and 19-year-old daughter Karen (Tsubasa Honda), whose demure appearance conceals a sadistic edge when she aggressively offers to lose her virginity to him. Of course, the only thing he can’t resist is temptation, giving rise to two rollicking scenes on a massage couch and inside a car. Yet, one roots for him because he’s no hypocrite about his lecherous impulses. And his ongoing romance with dweeby traffic warden Junna (Riisa Naka) is surprisingly touching.

As the Dragon Skulls step up their campaign against Seki-ya, a trip to Hong Kong is clearly in the cards, but it is an unduly long wait to get there, with Miike throwing in a couple more rumbles, just because he can. The only one worth the price of admission is a deliriously ferocious duel with the irresistibly vampish assassin Hu Fen (Nanao), in which the aforementioned toilet plunger plays a literally breathtaking role.

Everything (kind of) falls into place in Hong Kong, which is nostalgically rendered in lurid Chinoiserie tone a la “Crazy Cats Go to Hong Kong” (a classic ’70s Japanese music-comedy set in Hong Kong), with locals flaunting Chinaman pigtails and speaking Mandarin or gibberish that passes for Cantonese. Miike also forgoes his personal stamp of wacky details and gut-spilling violence here, in favor of splashier but more generic action extravaganzas. Still, a zappy energy prevails, and whoever can see the outrageous ending coming must be a genius or a lunatic.

With the shooting done mostly on soundstages, production designer Yuji Hayashida and set decorator Akira Sakamoto employ eye-scalding color schemes and garish sets where one cannot tell day from night, to conjure an insular fantasy world running on its own time and rules. Costumer Yuya Maeda outfits the cast with a wardrobe as loud as their high-volume performances, with an insect theme of butterflies, moths, and lizards. The score by Koji Endo is a catchy, eclectic mix of jazz-rock, pop, traditional Japanese folk song — and the cheeky, titular “Mole Song.”

Film Review: 'The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio'

Reviewed at Macau Film Festival (Gala), Dec. 9, 2016. Running time: 125 MIN. (Original title: "Mogura no uta: Hong Kong Kyousoukyoku")

Production: (Japan) A Toho Co. release of a Fuji Television, Shogakukan, J Storm presentation of an OLM production. (International sales: Pony Canyon, Tokyo.) Producers: Masaichi Kubo, Julie Fujishima, Minami Ichikawa, Toshiaki Okuno. Executive producer, Shinichi Ogawa.

Crew: Director: Takashi Miike. Screenplay: Kankuro Kudo, based on the manga by Noboru Takahashi. Camera (color, HD): Nobuyasu Kita. Editor, Kenji Yamashita.

With: Toma Ikuta, Eita, Shinichi Tsutsumi, Tsubasa Honda, Koichi Iwaki, Nanao, Riisa Naka, Arata Furuta. (Japanese, English, Mandarin, Pidgin Cantonese dialogue)

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