Wednesday 5 October 2016

Film Review: Top Knot Detective

Dive into the weird and wonderful world of Top Knot Detective in this hilarious Aussie mockumentary.

If you’re of a certain age and grew up watching SBS during the mid 90’s, chances are you have fond memories of Top Knot Detective (aka Ronin Suirui Tantai), a wacky procedural about a disgraced samurai who fought crime, giant robots and travelled through time (yes, seriously). Even though it was infamously terrible and critically derided back in Japan, the one-season wonder gained a cult following here in Australia that still exists today.

If you don’t, that’s okay too – because the whole thing is an elaborate work of fiction created by two talented local filmmakers, Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce, who have spun a hilarious yarn about this fictitious trainwreck of a show into a new feature length mockumentary, also called Top Knot Detective.

Let me break it down; the show is fictional, the cult following is fictional and everything about the production is fictional. However, their film imagines Top Knot Detective as a truth, painting a vivid picture of its terrible and egotistical creator and lead actor Takashi Takamoto (Toshi Okuzaki) and describing him as the ‘Ed Wood of Japanese samurai TV’. 

Along the way this cheesy love letter to Japanese V-cinema TV shows and films parodies everything from Power Rangers to James Bond, pausing in between to hone in on the interpersonal relationships of the actors and writers working on the show – all fictitious of course, but that doesn’t make their stories any less compelling. Talking heads, file footage and behind-the-scenes photos weave a compelling narrative about onset feuds and jealousies, as well as the wayward antics of the egotistical and deluded artist at the forefront of it all. As irreverent and imaginative as it is, Top Knot Detective is elevated by some wickedly clever writing and a deft understanding of what it sets out to achieve. 

The show, which was produced by Lauren Brunswick (Winner of the 2015 WA Young Filmmaker of the Year Award, 2015 Screen Producers Australia Ones To Watch), oozes creativity though every grainy, retro-inspired frame. The filmmakers establish a smart appreciation of genre early in the 86-minute runtime through a Roger Moore’s Bond inspired opening credits followed by purposefully shoddy dubbing and flimsy sets that wobble. It’s a hilarious unpacking of documentary filmmaking that cinephiles will lap up. That being said, the project isn’t without pathos; the emotional conclusion is so well crafted and earned that you’ll be second-guessing the fiction as fact right until the credits roll.

The acting is commendable across the board; the whole cast revel in the inherent silliness of the production and play it with a straight face. A string of familiar faces also impart the documentary style a greater sense of genuineness; SBS vet Des Mangan lends his voice as narrator whilst Danger 5 creator Dario Russo and national treasure Lee Lin Chin crop us as talking heads waxing lyrical about the beloved but ill-fated TV serial.

Originally pictured as a series, Top Knot Detective has been edited down to a feature length runtime by SBS. The elongated length doesn’t stymie the production and has allowed the filmmakers to plunge deeper into their own imagination.

The Verdict: 8/10

Original, hilarious and bursting with passion, Top Knot Detective is hard to define but eager to please – mostly filmed right here in Western Australia, you’d be remiss to miss out on this excellent local production that doesn’t take itself too seriously.

Top Knot Detective is currently available via SBS On Demand until October 11th

This review was originally published over at Hooked on Film, a Perth based website where you can find even more new release movie reviews, features, interviews and insight. Click here to check it out.  

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