Film Reviews

Mayhem Film Festival: Top Knot Detective

Despite not being a horror or even particularly that dark, Top Knot Detective is perfectly named to have begun the last day of the Mayhem film festival. An Australian-Japanese production, the film is an expertly crafted and hilarious entry into the well-tread mockumentary genre.

“The show he created was awful”

The comedy tells the story of a fictional and ill-fated, although hugely popular, 90’s Japanese TV show also named Top Knot Detective, though loosely translated as “Ronin Suirai Tantei”, and the absurd but brilliant tale of its star, writer, director and editor, Takashi Takamoto (Toshi Okuzaki). That’s right, this guy is beyond a triple threat. The only downside? The show he created was awful.

“All set against a back drop of woeful acting”

A bombastic and action-packed affair, the programme was originally about a wandering Samurai out to avenge the murdering of his mentor. However due to a combination of Takashi’s vanity and pressure from the show’s ratings hungry sponsor, it soon spiralled into weekly instalments of him battling monsters, ninjas and even robots, all set against a back drop of woeful acting, hectic Samurai sword-play, poorly masked special effects and endless, endless explosions.

“Ratings were through the roof”

And yet, ratings were through the roof. However, years after the its cancellation, the show has become a cult favourite in Australia as a team of Australian documenters set out to investigate the rise and fall of Top Knot Detective, and the jealousies and behind-the-scenes drama of the programme’s production.

“A brilliant comic creation by the filmmakers”

Co-directors/writers Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce succeed effortlessly in creating a world in which to place this eccentric, fake show through the ridiculousness of the characters. As a man-child who sort of happened to become a superstar, Takashi is a brilliant comic creation by the filmmakers.

“Toshi Okuzaki is fantastic”

Despised by most of his fellow cast as a selfish, egotistical, fame hungry animal, you can’t help but like this cartoonish character who gradually grows more human as the narrative unfolds. Toshi Okuzaki who plays Takashi, is fantastic, striking the perfect chord between hilariously expressive (e.g. great at acting terribly) one moment and touchingly sensitive the next.

“The larger cast all add similarly energetic and human performances too”

From deadpan to downright insane, the rest of the mostly Japanese cast are brilliant. In particular London-born actor Masa Yamaguchi is excellent playing Takashi’s jealous co-star Haruto Kioke, as is newcomer Mayu Iwaskai as his love interest who joins the show following a stint in a terrible female J-pop group. The larger cast all add similarly energetic and human performances too, with some notable interview cameos by members of Australian pop culture as outside perspectives on the cult of Top Knot Detective.

“The comic result is delightfully silly”

As we further explore the story of Takashi’s hugely popular but absolutely mad artistic baby, it’s unclear whether McCann and Pearce are satirizing bad 70s Samurai films or highlighting the bright, brilliant and downright bizarre world of Japanese pop culture. Throughout we are shown Takashi frequenting a panel show in which countless numbers of cats are free to roam the set at random, scenes depicting the timeless battle between Robots and Samurai and even a selection of snippets from some zany yet preposterously catchy J-pop music videos. Whatever their intention, the comic result is delightfully silly.

“The grainy quality of the 90s VHS TV footage is worth an absurd chuckle”

The best laughs come from the sheer incompetence and amateurish style of the TV show. The grainy quality of the 90s VHS TV footage is worth an absurd chuckle in itself, but what it showcases is even funnier. Look out for regular booms in the shot, massively unsubtle sponsor promotion and even several poorly superimposed shots of Takashi’s face over male model’s bodies in scenes where the lead character is feeling extra vain.

“The film keeps a rapid-fire comic pace throughout”

Fans of Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and other so-bad-its-good comedies will enjoy it immensely. Mock interviews supplement the shows’ craziness perfectly with deadpan one liners akin to that of Spinal Tap, arguably the mockumentary’s original launchpad way back in 1984. The creative union of these two narrative elements ensures the film keeps a rapid-fire comic pace throughout, with a belly laugh only ever seconds away.

“Leads the narrative into mystery themed territory”

Despite this sheer abundance of funny, Top Knot Detective has no issue shedding its comic chops for a moment in favour of hitting more intimate and emotional notes. As the film goes on the notable admission of Takashi from the mock interviews leads the narrative into mystery themed territory with a couple of intriguing twists.

As sharp as it is silly, Top Knot Detective is a smart mastering of the mockumentary format that is at times so funny and well-crafted you wish that the sort of show it spends the whole film lampooning, was real.


Nils Berg

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Image Courtesy of Broadway Cinema.

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