NYAFF 2017 Review: The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio (Japan 2016)

Sick of serious Miike? 13 Assassins and Hara-kiri Miike? Yearning for the older, wackier V-cinema Miike? Look no further than The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio (a belated sequel to 2013’s The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji). This film is a totally ridiculous live action yakuza cartoon from start to finish, featuring such over-the-top flourishes as a flying squirrel themed-villain, plane crashes over Hong Kong, and a toilet plunger fight. Worried you don’t remember what happened in the first film? No problem, our hero exposits prior events while hanging naked from a cage of yakuza suspended from a helicopter.

The Mole Song is a deeply silly mockery of that most classic of Japanese and Hong Kong gangster tropes – the undercover policeman who gets too deep into the gangster life. The lead, Reiji (played by the game Toma Ikuta) is a total fool who continually fails upward in his yakuza family. As Reiji, Ikuta is pretty one note, spending the entire movie pulling horrendous faces and being confused while his loyal friends save his ass. But none of that matters, because the real star is Shinichi Tsutsumi as Reiji’s yakuza mentor, and he is amazing.

I had forgotten how absolutely terrific Shinichi Tsutsumi is in this film’s predecessor, The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji. The lanky, angular Tsutsumi has made it into the mainstream of Japanese cinema, but for me he’ll always the hapless, po-faced hero of SABU’s 1996-2002 perpetual motion and bad luck series, starring in each of Dangan Runner, Postman Blues, Unlucky Monkey, Monday and Drive. Here again, as Crazy Papillon, the most yakuza-y yakuza that ever lived, Tsutsumi completely steals the show. The character just takes such utter glee in being a yakuza, constantly pops up at the best moments, and really commits to his signature butterfly motif in everything from his suits to his aircraft. Tsutsumi doesn’t just chew the scenery here – he devours it and uses realism as a toothpick afterwards.

To be frank, not only had I forgotten Crazy Papillon, I had completely forgotten that I had watched the first Mole Song film until Reiji recapped the plot and everything looked familiar. In fact, I had forgotten the first film even existed. Egregious as that may sound, I have watched dozens (if not what feels like hundreds or thousands) of Miike films over the years. And as fun as the Mole Song films are, they’re never going to make his top tier. They are not audacious howls of insane, filthy energy like Dead or Alive, Visitor Q or Ichi the Killer, or masterpieces like Audition or 13 Assassins. The Mole Song films are disposable entertainment, cheap, and fun, and goofy – and I mean that in the very best way. I’ll probably forget about this one before the next one rolls around in a few years, and find myself pleasantly surprised all over again.

2 1/2 out of 4 stars (Good). The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio is playing as part of the New York Asian Film Festival on July 14.

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