The Mole Song: Final is the third and, well, final part of Takashi Miike’s Mole Song series about an undercover cop infiltrating the yakuza. It started with 2013’s The Mole Song: Undercover Agent Reiji, in which an incompetent cop named Reiji Kikukawa is kicked off the force and enrolled as a mole within the Sukiya-kai crime family. There, he befriends a supercool higher-up nicknamed The Crazy Papillon (he’s got a thing for butterflies; animal avatars abound in this yakuza world — cats, leopards, lions, flying squirrels, etc.) who believes that the only yakuza who deserve to survive are the ones who are either funny or cool, which might as well be Takashi Miike’s philosophy of cinema. Reiji works to catch the boss in a drug ring (Papillon hates drugs and anyone who sells them, but his boss is doing it behind his back), but he slips away. In the second film, 2016’s The Mole Song: Hong Kong Capriccio, Reiji has to rescue the boss’s daughter from a Chinese gang that has infiltrated the yakuza and is engaging in human trafficking, selling off beautiful women at auction to the richest men in the world. This third offering finds him again on the trail of drug dealers, now led by the boss’s son, who, with the help of the Italian mafia, has found a way to turn speed into pasta and distribute it around the world.
The Mole Song films are zany farces, with an unhinged lead performance by Toma Ikuta as Reiji. He’s not a good cop, or a good yakuza. One person describes him by saying “He’s horny and looks like a fool, but you can count on him,” and the films mostly revolve around his physical abasement: getting beaten up or humiliated sexually (there are a lot of dick jokes), to which he responds with ever greater levels of determination. For all his idiocy (and he is an idiot, to be sure), he has a stubborn sense of justice that gets him through all the insane situations he finds himself in. But it’s Papillon who steals every film. Shinichi Tsutsumi plays him with a joyous grin but otherwise straight-faced abandon. Whether he’s beating people up, with or without the use of his bionic legs (he lost the real ones saving Reiji in the first film), espousing the iron rules of yakuza ideology, or summoning his pal, the “Butterfly of the Sea” (no spoilers), it’s his charm and energy that carries the series through even the most tiresome gang movie tropes or slapstick clichés.
It’s that kind of élan that Miike does better than anyone in movies today. Anything is possible in a Takashi Miike movie, as long as it’s funny or cool. Stop-motion paper cut-out fantasy sequences? Sure. Drug-smuggling terriers dog-paddling through a busy port? Adorable. A giant tiger falling from a building, jaws clamped around our hero’s head? Love it. These films, Final as much as the previous two, aren’t so much parodies or, god forbid, subversions of the gangster genre as much as they claim familiar structures and characters as an excuse to create things no sane filmmaker has ever thought of putting on screen. The endless slapstick and cornball humor can grow tiresome, as can Ikuta’s mugging, especially at the 130-minute running time each entry in the series has. And sure, Miike has made better movies over this past decade, and he’s made movies that are more consistently fun, and he’s made movies that are much weirder. But the point is, nobody makes movies like Takashi Miike.
Published as part of Fantasia Fest 2022 — Dispatch 2.