A genial Australian mockumentary about the excesses of Japanese pop culture, Top Knot Detective gets laughs from its dead-on recreation of the look of low-budget early 1990s J-TV, but it also manages to tell two quite complicated stories – the mutating plotline of the show Ronin Suirei Tentai (aka Top Knot Detective) as it reacts to backstage troubles and changing tastes and an intricate drama of rivalry, revenge, crime and murder set in the milieu of the omnipresent Sutaffu corporation (the name is one of the broader gags, which is saying something in a film that features a pantomime penis monster). It has some of the sense of cinema arcana that Forgotten Silver manages, but it’s also a Spinal Tap-level exercise in lunacy (albeit with far less endearing characters).
The backstory is that Top Knot Detective was briefly a hit in Japan but suppressed after several scandals, surviving only in VHS dupes popular in the Australian market – which is why this gets to be an Australian documentary, narrated by Des Mangan (screenwriter of the What’s Up Tiger Lily?-esque Hercules Returns) with footage from Australian cons of TKD stars signing autographs and fans doing cosplay. Star-creator-director Takashi Takamoto (Toshi Okuzaki) is notably absent from the line-up of interviews with the personnel who made the show, stringing out a mystery about his eventual fate. It emerges that, quite apart from his artistic shortcomings, Takamoto had an intense rivalry with Haruto Kioke (Masa Yamaguchi), the heir to the Sutaffu Corporation who also played Top Knot Detective Sheimasu Tantai’s nemesis Kurosaki on the show. Furthermore, he violated a contract by having a relationship with co-star Mia Matsumoto (Mayu Iwasaki), who came to TKD from a spell as a pop idol in a terrible girl group called Shlam! (‘I suppose they could dance,’ a fan grudgingly concedes).
The show begins as a straight-ish samurai drama with the hero out to bring down the villain who killed his master (Arnold Wong), but brings in robot ninjas, go-go dancers, giant monsters (and that penis thing) and a variety of hilariously inapt ads for Sutaffu products … but gets even weirder when replaced by Timestryker, about a baseball-playing time-travelling Japanese superhero (Oscar Harris) who crosses over with Top Knot Detective, revising the origin story (in a very funny twist) and sending the annoyed hero into a post-apocalyptic future where his arch-enemy is now a cyborg. It’s much more detailed and credible than, say, the show about which Mindhorn revolves … and continues the current trend of pastiching ‘80s/’90s schlock (Manborg, Turbo Kid, etc). Also amusing are a hectic Japanese talk show involving cats and a man in a dog suit and a glimpse of a potential contemporary reboot for the franchise.
Eventually, the scattershot jokes settle down and the film gets into a mystery angle – involving the murder of the CEO of Sutaffu (Shinichi Matsuda), who is found chopped into bits in a suitcase dumped in the river, and Takamoto’s eventual post-stardom career as an international fugitive. With a terrific Timestryker episode that pits the heroes against a cockney-accented, werewolf-headed, top-hatted Wolf the Ripper (Lenny Rudeberg) and cameos for J-cult figures Guitar Wolf (Wild Zero) and Shonen Knife. Plus a post-credits teaser for a giallo/brony mash-up My Little Italian Stallions. Directed and written by Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce.