EXPECTATIONS: Some amusing one-joke premise that would run out of steam by the film’s end.
REVIEW: For those who live in Australia, the 90’s were a great time to watch the weird and wonderful culture of Australian programming. Consisting of surreal shows and films like Eat Carpet from SBS to the Journey to the West series Monkey on ABC, I’ll always be thankful to them for providing the huge amount of enjoyment that make us nostalgic for similar programs.
And now we have Top Knot Detective, a mockumentary about an incredibly bad TV show of the same name and its creator/mastermind Takashi Takamoto (Toshi Okuzaki) who is director, lead actor, writer and editor…well, self-proclaimed anyway. Will it succeed in evoking the same feels that people have had back in the past?
The TV show Top Knot Detective (also known as Ronin Suirai Tantei) revolved around a samurai seeking vengeance on the shadowy conspiracy that murdered his master. With his swords, and the power of deductive reasoning (one of the many great catchphrases), he wanders through feudal Japan, killing ninjas, robots, aliens, penis monsters, you know, the typical creatures one can find in feudal Japan.
While behind the scenes, the show is actually a tension-filled back and forth between its ego-maniacal and unruly star, Takashi Takimoto, his co-stars (most of them having negative feedback) and their corporate masters at Sutaffu.
The story takes us through the development of the show and the story is so surrealistic and random, that it comes off more endearing rather than grating. The filmmakers’ enthusiasm and knowledge is seething throughout and it is very infectious. The over-the-top violence, the crazy characters, the catchphrases, the random occurrences, the shoddy film-making provide lots of laughs.
The research in Japanese culture is also well-done, as directors Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce explore other TV shows, the tokusatsu genre, J-Pop, cosplay and other themes that it adds a lot of verisimilitude to the story. There is a cameo from a particular Japanese musician that people will certainly appreciate. The actors all plays their roles (behind the scenes) so straight that not only does it make the film funnier, but it also adds a surprisingly emotional core that few would expect. Pathos is the last thing that you would expect from Top Knot Detective, but it is there and it works.
The directors genuinely want to tell a story as well as create an homage/deconstruction of Japanese media genres and thankfully, it succeeds in both parts. It certainly helps that the filmmakers try to make it as realistic as possible, that it could’ve been an actual show. The VHS-look, the notable people like Des Mangan and Lee Chin-chin (associated to SBS [Special Broadcasting Service]) as well as Danger 5 Director Dario Russo making contributions, the trademark yellow subtitles, it’s all here and it adds an air of nostalgia as well as authenticity.
I really enjoyed Top Knot Detective not only as a comedy, but as an homage and surprisingly, even as a drama. It made me feel exactly how I felt back in the early 90’s of watching the surreal late-night programming that it, quite honestly, almost made me shed a tear. Definitely one of the biggest surprises I have seen so far this year and it surely deserves a wider audience. Highly recommended.
P.S – There is an after-credits sequence that had me so pumped that I wanted to see a mockumentary of it immediately.
Deadpan approach to the insane premise of a TV show works wonders
The amazingly committed actors engender sympathy more than the script allows
The world-building (in this case, TV show building) is so well-realized that you would wish the show actually existed
Incredibly well-researched and articulated in its details of Japanese culture
Does drag a little bit in the second act
Cast: Toshi Okuzaki, Denis Mangan, Mayu Iwasaki
Director: Aaron McCann, Dominic Pearce
Screenwriters: Aaron McCann, Dominic Pearce