By Tara Judah
The prolific Miike Takashi directed five other films in the two years (2014 and 2015) since the first instalment of his live action adaptation, The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji (2013). Returning now to the titular bat-shit cray undercover cop character, created as a manga series by Noboru Takahashi, Takashi has created something exhilarating and messy.
A very direct follow-up to the first feature, our accident-prone, sex-obsessed, over-zealous protagonist, Reiji (Ikuta Toma), now heavily embroiled in the Yakuza underworld, only manages to get himself into even more trouble. But let’s leave plot points alone because the aesthetics and style, here, are provocative enough to eclipse all narrative concerns.
Visually, Takashi might as well have put the first Mole Song film into a blender with several of his other movies and thrown the contents onto the cinema screen. Performance wise, it probably would have been more engaging but, visually, the result would be the same: a fine technicolour yawn, tinged with a seedy yellow, kind of like the shade of not quite blond peroxide hair Reiji is sporting in this film. Far from an insult, this is, I believe, the precise aesthetic that Takashi is aiming for. The bombastic yet grimy underworld of the Yakuza might well take its inspiration from fashion designers like Roberto Cavalli and Versace: the mise-en-scene is costly, uncouth and yet still kind of alluring.
Along with constantly moving cameras, well-enough choreographed action sequences and a heightened sound design, the film is most successful in characterising crime and corrupt policing as abhorrent activities. It does so in revealing the sickest affliction on Japanese society today: the persistence of the patriarch.
From the Yakuza boss’s final decision to value his own life ahead of his daughter’s, to the toppling of male-led authority organisations (policed and criminal), whose only value is their weak, abusive and immoral patriarchal authority (standing in as God/father/law), the film seems to despise every (male) cog in the corrupt chain of drug and human trafficking hierarchies. And yet, it is still obsessed with serving the function of perpetuating that very order.
Further to that, all threats of rape or violence to women in the film (even for its subversiveness, it is a genre film, after all) are played for comedy rather than suspense. That is to say that Takashi clearly sets them up as sideline devices to either elicit disgust from the viewer and to illustrate patriarchal fall or, to reveal the problems of generic reliance in using violence against women as a driver for thematic tension – i.e. it’s insulting and it doesn’t work.
Two issues arising from this; 1) the women are sideline devices not characters with agency, no getting off the hook there and 2) the patriarchal fall is metaphorical, literal and symbolic but it does not come at the cost of the singular hero. Reiji, deceiving both the Yakuza and the Police force in trying to achieve some unrealistically characterised sense of true justice, is still an absolute sexist pig. To wit, the film gets off on him fighting a sexy assassin with a literally shitty toilet plunger. There are no gold stars for Takashi when it comes to gender politics.
Where this leaves us is in a confusing place – and it’s worth saying that almost half of the audience walked out before the end of the film in this screening. Takashi doesn’t like to stand squarely on either side of the problematic and deeply disturbing fence he has spent his career building. Instead, he likes to make everyone who is watching feel like they are the seedy yellow colour palette that his films are so often saturated by.
Having created and clumsily inserted a second stanza for the titular Mole Song into the story, I can only deduce that a third will be on its way some time in the future. The manga series is still in its original run (Takahashi first published in Weekly Young Sunday in 2005 and continued its run from 2008 in Big Comic Spirits), so there’s plenty more source material for Takashi to draw from, and/or throw up all over.
Director: Takashi Miike
Writers: Noboru Takahashi (manga), Kankurô Kudô (screenplay)
Producer: Uehara Juichi
Production Company: Pony Canyon Inc.Sales Pony Canyon Inc.
Cinematography: Kita Nobuyasu
Editor: Yamashita Kenji
Music: Endô Kôji
Stars: Tôma Ikuta, Eita, Tsutsumi Shinichi, Eita, Honda Tsubasa, Arata Furuta, Nanao, Kamiji Yusuke