Too much doc, not enough schlock
In the early 90s a little known Japanese Samurai/Detective series hit Australia where it quickly became a cult hit. In Japan it was called 'Ronin Suiri Tentai (Deductive Reasoning Ronin) but in Australia it is know only as 'Top Knot Detective'
Directors: Aaron McCann, Dominic Pearce
Writers: Aaron McCann (story by), Aaron McCann
Stars: Toshi Okuzaki, Masa Yamaguchi, Mayu Iwasaki
90’s TV show ridiculousness with Samurais, gore, monsters, and power ranger aesthetic. Sure this sub genre is pretty much it’s own trope now, but it sounds like a perfect amount of mindless fun worth checking out. Right?....
Sadly all the potential is completely botched minutes in. I’m not completely against mockumentary style movies. It can work. The problem with ‘Top Knot’ is the best thing it has going for it - the show footage - is rarely used. Instead we are treated to an unfunny behind the scenes dive that draaaaaaaags on, bringing nothing new or funny to the actual stuff that works. As the 87 minute clock begins to tick for what feels like 87 hours... less and less of the show footage is shown. It’s a perfect bait n switch we would have experienced back in the day renting something off the video store shelves... “Oh this movie looks badass!” Then you get home and realize the movie you rented with a Samurai on the cover holding a blood soaked sword, back-dropped to a roaring tiger’s face surrounded by half naked women and dead bodies doesn’t even have a samurai in it..... I’m sure you get the picture. Anyways as I was saying...instead of Top Knot badassery we are forced to sit through tedious random robot chicken-esque skits that poke fun at weird Japanese stereotypes. “Oh boy that Japanese TV is so crazy AMIRITE?!!!” *wink wink* ughhhhhhh
I know I’m being extremely negative but as much as I wanted to I couldn’t find anything about this experience redeeming. Maybe it was just too sporadic for my expectations. Maybe I’m just salty I didn’t get what was promised. After watching the movie I did some research to see why I wasn’t as enthralled as most reviewers. Reading up I found this little tidbit which is the only trivia item on the movies IMDb page...
Top Knot Detective (2016) was originally slated to be a web series in Australia, currently the pilot still exists with a mix of different interviews and alternate takes.
Maybe that would have worked better? Maybe it wouldn’t have made the humor so grating? Who knows. I just would have rather they threw together all the top not footage into a 30 min short similar to something like ‘Kung Fury’. Instead we got this exhausting mock doc snooze fest.
Maybe you’ll find more enjoyment out of this than I did. Hell 100% on RT says I’m in the complete minority. But that’s what watching movies is all about right? Form your own opinion. I’ll close my white knuckled anger with a quote used in the end of the movie that perfectly sums up my feelings.....
When you watch a lot of media, watch a lot of movies and tv you get bored. You get jaded. You’ve seen the same stuff over and over again and you’re praying for some kind of weirdness. Some kind of real lunacy that will just shake you up and show you something....
Top Knot doesn’t
Top Knot Detective is two distinct things. A mockumentary about a fictional Japanese samurai show that took Australia by storm in the 90s, and also, a collage of vignettes taken from said fictional Japanese samurai show. The latter of which, works great. The former however, eh...not so much.
In its mockumentary form, Top Knot struggles to stance itself away from the very thing it's attempting to poke fun of. While the material surrounding the circumstances is ridiculous enough (more on that later), the actual circumstances themselves wouldn't seem out of place in your run-of-the-mill celebrity burn-out documentary. Show succeeds, rivalries are formed, professional romance blossoms, controversies arise, legal fallout and tragedy concludes it all. Its all rather ordinary, and mostly presented as such; the few moments of deviation providing a much needed tinge of personality (the game show styled segments for instance). I would have liked to see some more spotlight however, on the fandom surrounding Top Knot Detective as well; just a stronger focus on the influence and impact it had on Australian pop culture overall (outside billboards and Sutaffu product placement). Thankfully, the weakest parts of the gag are inter-cut with slices of the samurai detective show itself, allowing for a nice break away from the talking heads.
It's in the show's archival footage where Top Knot Detective shines. An exceedingly offensive culture relic, the fake samurai series is rife with every kind of cliche you can think of when talking fringe Japanese lunacy. It's an export that's often used unfairly to broadly define the country's cinematic sensibility, and all of it is seemingly present and accounted for with Top Knot (at least as far as 90s samurai shows go). Ninjas, robots, tentacles, slapstick violence, constant screaming, fetishism of western women, and everything in between. Even the commercial segments are laced with the same level of absurdity (the cigarette commercial being my favorite). If you came for the gonzo, this is where you'll find satisfaction (I know I did). Even if you're not outright laughing at the stupid, you'd have to be dead inside to not respond to the insanity on display.
If Takashi Takamoto (played exuberantly by Toshi Okuzaki) isn't punching ninja heads clean off their necks, he's eye gouging, face squashing, time traveling, (failing at) womanizing, and most of all, being an absolutely shitty detective! Nearly every segment featuring his antics is enjoyable, much of that owed to his charismatic dedication to the role of lovable asshole. And while his Top Knot counterparts do an admirable job playing second and third fiddle (Mayu Iwasaki in particular), they're often overshadowed by Takamoto's energy. Given the (fake) real life story that encapsulates the series madness, it only follows that logically, this would be the case—DEDUCTIVE REASONING!
Right, so if like me, you found the crazier parts of the mockumentary's trailer to be the hook that snagged your attention, understand that you're gonna have a lot of not-so-crazy interviewing to get through in order to reach 'em. These grounded moments may serve to juxtapose well against the show's insanity, and hopefully it works for you. But even if they don't, you'd still come away with glimpses of manic brilliance that'll ultimately leave you wishing for the real thing.