“Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio” is a rude, crude and completely daft Yakuza comedy, based on the manga by Noboru Takahashi, and directed by Takashi Miike, the maverick Japanese director. This is an anarchic film, where rationality is jettisoned, blazing action erupts and toilet humour abounds. Director Takashi Miike and his script writer Kankuro Kudo again play around the ‘rules’ of cinematic narrative, subverting and undercutting nearly every scene with something intriguing, silly or surprising. The whole film is like an adrenalized cartoon, blasted through with exaggerated physical acting and contorted facial expressions of actor Toma Ikuta, inventive high energy fight scenes and absurdist logic crashing through the narrative like an old Roadrunner cartoon. The humour veers from the subtle, to surreal, to extreme bad taste! There is a pleasing erratic tone to the comedy, a rebellion of ideas and gags in biff bang pow style.
“The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio” screened at the New York Asian Film Festival
“The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio” is also an action movie, and the action is full of unrestrained energy and wild abandon. Massive punches and front kicks are juxtaposed with realistic assassination attempts that are then undercut by some outrageous comedy action scenes. Everything is open to Miike’s subversion as the idiot hero Reiji Kikukawa concocts chaos with every step. There is nothing realist about this movie, and it is all the better for it. It is only when the villainy ramps to unreal and unpleasant heights, when ironically, unpleasant reality seeps into the film, this a classic slice of Miike paradox.
As this is a Takashi Miike film, the villains are very nasty in their pleasures of evil. Criminal enterprise is something to be relished, but all the characters, good, bad or indifferent, have some kind of irrationality. Even so, this is one of Miike’s upbeat optimistic films. In the battle between nihilism and humanism, one of the threads of the Miike oeuvre, humanity with all its faults and anomalies, is celebrated through the naive infectious optimism of Reiji. The darkness of entropy is always in the shadows!
This is a sequel to the first Mole Song film, “The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji”, where Japan’s most inept cop, Reiji Kikukawa is fired after a lingerie incident! It is a ploy by his superiors to inject Reiji into the yakuza as a mole. Reiji is the ultimate idiot and he somehow works his way into the yakuza to spy on boss Shuho Todoroki. A classic fish out of water story with penis gags galore and hyperactive action.
This film continues where the previous film left off, with Reiji completely naked and his manhood covered by newspaper, a riff on the original film. This time, a naked Reiji is hanging onto a cage, filled with yakuza goons from a rival outfit! The cage is being transported by helicopter, driven by yakuza ‘facilitator of matters’, Crazy Papillion, the laid back action man. Shuho Todoroki may have come to a peace agreement with his yakuza rivals, but Crazy Papillion drops the cage on a big bonfire where the yakuza clan are hanging around, somewhat randomly. Reiji avoids being squashed and ends up on top of the cage. A shot changes to a super hip DJ with the most high end audio equipment. He puts an old vinyl record on the turntable, he puts the needle on the record; a traditional Japanese folk song! All the yakuza goons start dancing a traditional jig around the bonfire, with the rival hoods about to be roasted in the cage. This is like a sick comedy version of the folk horror “The Wicker Man”, the folk music, dancing around the cage as sacrificial lambs are about to be slaughtered. Luckily Reiji is on hand to save the truce and the yakuza thugs from getting roasted, they hang on to his legs and his super strong testicles to avoid a yakuza diplomatic incident!
After this crazy opener, the boss Shuho Todoroki promotes Crazy Papillion to run his own sub gang and makes Reiji his number two. Reiji is also given the honour of being a bodyguard to the boss. Reiji, being a complete airhead, takes no notice of any of the proceedings, so when a massive chopping board is brought out, the boss asks his opinion of Crazy Papillion, Reiji is perplexed! Reiji has no clue what is going on! He decides to wing it, by chopping off his pinky, much to the amusement of the bosses. Luckily his finger stays intact as Crazy Papillion is receiving an additional honour, the heir apparent to Shuho Todoroki.
The boss is concerned about a new bunch of Chinese gangsters that are starting to muscle in on his various interests and he asks Crazy Papillion to look into it. These are the Dragon Skulls, a new young, ruthless and ambitious bunch of Chinese gangsters.
There is a new crusading cop on the scene too, Shinya Kabuto. He wants to stamp out corruption in the police, and sever any links between the cops and the yakuza. He gives his puritanical speeches in front of a massive Japanese flag, a parody of famous “Patton” scene. To add to the surrealism, the cops’ faces suddenly transform into emotionless robots! This is a brilliant and darkly disturbing visual, Miike at his satirical best.
With Reiji promoted to the boss’s bodyguard, he has to control his uncontrollable impulses around the boss’s sensuous wife and his pretty, but spoiled brat of a daughter, Karen. In the background there is Reiji’s sweetheart from the first film, the traffic warden Junna Wakagi, who is in a state of confusion at Reiji’s erratic behaviour, but Reiji thinks of her often.
Reiji now has to babysit and drive the bad tempered Karen around, receiving many an insult. There is a gloriously over-the-top freeze frame of a cartoon background, like something from a “Scooby Do” cartoon, Karen decides to seduce to Reiji! She recounts that she can’t get a boyfriend, told through animated flashbacks that progressively become more disturbing. Potential suitors either run off once they realise she is the daughter of a yakuza boss, or her father fillets the daring boys like a fish! She decides Reiji is such a moron; he might be the man to pop her cherry. The seduction is a bust after an awkward traffic warden intervention by Junna and then Karen is kidnapped by the Dragon Skulls!
Crazy Papillion may have his moronic sidekick in Reiji, but he also has his ‘Crazy Papillion in the making’ with Kenta Kurokawa, his superhero brawling investigative yakuza apprentice, with Zen attitude. They both examine matters and go to see the excommunicated yakuza ‘Flying Squirrel’, a yakuza so tough; he doesn’t chew when he eats his food!
The scene is set, the film ramps up another notch into a series of untamed set pieces, as Karen, the spoiled damsel in distress, needs rescuing. Crazy Papillion ascertains that excommunicated yakuza have put their expertise to use by joining up with the raw and ruthless Chinese gangsters. Yakuza are being dumped by the boss, due to new a law specifying that crimes committed by any yakuza make the boss liable, and he must answer for the crime. As soon as a yakuza is caught by the cops, they are excommunicated immediately, leaving his loyal henchmen in the lurch.
Flying Squirrel, a particularly cunning, cruel and marvellously evil yakuza, has thrown his lot in with the Dragon Skulls. He kidnaps Karen and demands that the boss must ‘step down’, to commit suicide! If he doesn’t, he will order his malicious hoods to rape Karen, live on stream! This is a brutal stuff for a hyperactive comedy, but Flying Squirrel is a true enthusiast of evil, dressed in his dapper white suit, aided by his malevolent hand puppet! This is wild and weird stuff. A desolate Karen is tied up within carousel style contraption, bright lights shining, resembling a scene from a bubbly kids TV show gone horribly wrong! She can only whimper for her father, as she realises the gravity of her situation, subtly acted by Tsubasa Honda. All her entitled cruelty ebbs away from her. The surreal nature of the comedy blended with the extreme malice is an example of Takashi Miike’s subversion of expectations, even within this farcical comedy.
Reiji has made an almighty mess with Karen’s kidnapping and the boss will not be satisfied with a few chopped fingers! Reiji is in big trouble, so he tries to swap for Karen, making the offer over in live internet feed, but Flying Squirrel is unimpressed. He wants death, or pure villainy will be unleashed “Baby Of Macon” style.
The boss decides to contemplate the issue on the toilet, his latest extracurricular paramour tagging along. She happens to be an assassin for the Dragon Skulls, and strings the boss up in his large and luxurious toilet, in brutal fashion. Reiji stumbles into the scene trying to think of ways to save his own skin. He sees the boss hanging, so springs into action using a nasty toilet plunger, stained with shit and stinking to high heaven! He takes on the sassy assassin with this vile device, and a thrilling action sequence ensues, with gags aplenty. Miike even dives in to the depths of lingerie shot, when Hu Fen, the assassin, finds herself in a compromising position. This is stupid basic humour, focusing in on her Dragon Skulls emblem on her underwear, but it is genuinely funny and deranged in this exciting action scene. Reiji manages to save the boss and thus saves his own skin. He plunges the shitty plunger onto the beautiful assassin’s face and starts plunging, a crackers scene. She escapes with stinky plunger attached to her face, but the boss is saved. The undercutting of the tense assassination attempt, with Reiji’s shitty plunger antics is another example of Takashi Miike playing around with narrative expectations.
Concurrently, Crazy Papillion arrives to rescue Karen, thus giving his whereabouts over Flying Squirrel’s live internet feed. Crazy Papillion is a super hero style yakuza with cybernetic legs, the robo-yakuza, leading to his first confrontation with Flying Squirrel and his hand full of chunky metal washers! “Robocop” is another influence, given the Yakuza twist, like Miike’s own low budget “Full Metal Yakuza”. This is a taste of what is on offer in Mole Song 2, as not to give a full on spoiler-tastic review, but this is one wild film.
After a series of mishaps, all roads lead to Hong Kong and a big finale at a beautiful woman auction filled with bunch of corrupt Brits, aristocratic Europeans and sleazy Arabs, all bidding for these unfortunate beauties. The mysterious Mr Big from behind the scenes is revealed! The whip cracking assassin makes her sassy return with the turd infested plunger! Crazy Papillion turns himself in a video game, in one of the craziest scenes in the film. One of the victims of the auction uses a game console to control the super yakuza, to enact her revenge! A CGI / animated tiger is unleashed! Flying Squirrel flies, with his own additional robo-yakuza hand. Reiji bursts in song! See it to believe it, this is one madcap ride, with an uprising of gags, visual ideas and kinetic action. The final confrontation between Mr Big and Reiji is a skit on the final confrontation in “Fistful Of Dollars”and thus, by way of ironic post-modernism, “Yojimbo”. The film references come thick and fast.
The technical aspects of this film are top drawer. Nobuyasu Kita cinematographic eye focuses both on the specific minutiae of the characters and their surroundings, to the wider shots of the big set pieces. Cooler tones are used around the boss Shuho Todoroki, with gaudier brighter hues in the big extravagant scenes.
The production design is superb; Yuji Hayashida is magnificent, pushing his designs to the maximum. There are plenty of unhinged sets, packed with detail, from the big ball room of the auction, to Flying Squirrel’s lair onto his his shiny and bright kidnap venue! The design is generally more restrained around Shuho Todoroki’s residence, suggesting a puritanical personality. His bathroom facilities are particularly ostentatious though!
The costumes by Yuya Maeda are designed specific to the character. Reiji has his ridiculously loud suits. Crazy Papillion suits are bold, but he a little more subtle with his butterfly design. Flying Squirrel’s supervillain outfit is so ridiculously camp, it is one of the film’s hilarious highlights. The designer is having fun with the bitter excommunicated yakuza who is lost to pure wickedness. He transmutes from his dashing white suits of a wannabe boss, to his hopeless super villain outfit, losing his sense of style. Reiji’s ever-changing outrageous hairstyle is another pleasure of this film.
The acting is superb across the board, with almost mythic sensibilities given to the characters. The physically exaggerated acting of Toma Ikuta is all contorted faces and stretched out arms. He literally stretches into the role of Reiji, the fool incarnate. The bemused demeanour of Crazy Papillion is pitch perfect by Shinichi Tsutsumi. He is the yakuza who never gets flustered in any dangerous situation. He is the classic mentor hero, but his character is perhaps even more mythic, the yakuza Deus Ex Machina! Tsubasa Honda is both brattish and subtle as Karen; she is an unusual damsel in distress. She is spoiled, entitled, with sadistic impulses, and petty in her cruelty, but she is also lonely and utterly dejected when her world falls apart, a fine performance. The transformation from professional gangster to a sordid unhinged villain by Arata Furuta is a delight. Flying Squirrel is a fitting Takashi Miike rogue, into the deep!
The animation is inventive and disquieting, and is used effectively within the narrative. Ironically, the CGI has a completely unreal, almost sloppy computer graphics quality, grinding extra spice to the bonkers nature of the film!
“The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio” is a film where the plot is resolved, but absurdly, nothing is resolved! One thing is for sure, Reiji’s effervescent optimism sizzles through the silver screen, much to Crazy Papillion’s approval! Takashi Miike creates an exciting manga adaptation, with a frenetic plot, fizzing action, madcap humour and deadly threat! Reiji, the reckless fool, is ironically one of Takashi Miike’s finest humanist protagonists!