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‘The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio’: Digging deep into the yakuza

by Mark Schilling

Special To The Japan Times

Since his start as a director in 1991, Takashi Miike has accumulated nearly 100 credits, including his output for television broadcast and straight-to-video release. Far from being the faceless journeyman this number suggests, Miike is a genre auteur who has put his individual stamp on his films, with extreme violence, kinky sex, black humor and unbridled imagination being his familiar signatures.

And yet his latest, “The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio,” again reminded me that there is also a wide gap between good Miike and bad Miike. After the fiasco of “Terra Formars,” a misbegotten venture into sci-fi that died at the box office earlier this year, he has bounced back strongly with this full-throttle yakuza comedy, a follow-up to the similarly deranged 2013 “The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji” (“Mogura no Uta: Sennyu Sosakan Reiji”).

Based on a hit comic by Noboru Takahashi and scripted by the multitalented Kankuro Kudo, this second film again centers on Reiji Kikukawa (Toma Ikuta), an underachieving cop given the suicidal task of infiltrating a yakuza gang. After some hair-raising tests of his manhood in the first film, he succeeds — too well, in fact, for his police superiors, who suspect he has gone over to the dark (or rather gold-snakeskin-suit) side.

As this sequel gets underway, Reiji and his excitable gang brother Hiura aka “Crazy Papillon” (Shinichi Tsutsumi) are ushered into the presence of their boss, the cool, ruthless Todoroki (Koichi Iwaki). He tells them he is making Hiura his adopted son and Reiji the second-in-command of Hiura’s new sub-gang.

Celebrations would seem to be in order, but the Dragon Skulls, a Chinese gang, is making violent inroads into Todoroki territory. Also, once Reiji is assigned as Todoroki’s bodyguard he finds himself in dangerous proximity to the boss’s pretty, unpredictable daughter Karen (Tsubasa Honda); she wants him to end her virginity, but if he does, her dad may end his life.

Yet another threat to his well-being arrives in the form of Kabuto (the single-named Eita), a crusading elite cop who vows to wipe out police corruption, including Reiji’s sort of consorting with the yakuza. Finally, there is Sakuraba aka “Flying Squirrel” (Arata Furuta), an ex-communicated Todoroki gangster turned human trafficker who has Karen in his sights.

Despite these complications — and others that involve Reiji’s sweet, long-suffering girlfriend (Riisa Naka) and a gorgeous whip-cracking Chinese nemesis (the single-named Nanao) — the plot threads never tangle. Instead the movie hurls Reiji from excruciating embarrassment to life-threatening danger and back again with a bracing headlong abandon.

Also, unlike manga adaptations that try to be moving and thrilling but are only cartoony and unconvincing, “The Mole Song” takes leave of reality altogether and is all the better for it. One point of comparison is Miike’s “Happiness of the Katakuris” (“Katakuri-ke no Kofuku”), a 2001 zombie musical that also stirred in wacky animation and effects to memorable comic effect. This time Miike has a larger budget and better tools to play with, but he has lost little of his joy in hurtling off the cliff of plausibility into the blue skies of lunacy.

His biggest “effect,” however, is still Ikuta as his much-put-upon hero. Gifted with leading-man looks — he played the womanizing title character in a 2011 costume drama based on the classic “Tale of Genji” — Ikuta gives himself up totally to the idiocy of being Reiji, from his incurable awkwardness with women to his knack for stupidly getting himself into perilous situations. And those looks have their uses when Reiji is called up to be an action hero or lover, however bumbling. He physically fits the part, even though his usual expression is one of startled surprise or abject terror.

It’s tough being a mole in Tokyo, Hong Kong or anywhere. Dig it.