Thursday, November 16, 2017

Abertoir ’17: Top Knot Detective

Sheimasu Tentai was no Zenigata Heiji, that’s for sure. Supposedly, the ronin detective was a champion of deductive reasoning, but it is hard to prove it from the cheesy clips drawn from his short-lived early 1990s Japanese TV Show. Apparently, it was subsequently suppressed, for murky, conspiratorial reasons, but enough bootleg VHS tapes were circulated in Australia to earn it a small but loyal cosplaying following. The short rise and long fall of Ronin Suirei Tentai is chronicled in Aaron McCann & Dominic Pearce’s mockumentary, Top Knot Detective (trailer here), which screens at this year’s Abertoir: The International Horror Festival of Wales.

When the powerful Sutaffu Corporation decided to get into the television production business, they were unable to sign their first choice of talent, so they settled for Takashi Takamoto. His primary merit was the Ronin Suirei Tentai treatment he already had ready to go. It was clumsy and campy, but it still became a minor hit anyway, because the early nineties were apparently not a golden age of Japanese television.

Ronin Suirei really started to comparatively take off when former j-pop idol Mia Matsumoto joined the show as Tentai’s rival and love interest, Saku. Inevitably, Takamoto’s arrogance and hedonism started to sabotage the show. Yet, it was his scandalous relationship with Matsumoto that really hastened its demise. However, Takamoto and Tentai would mount at least one highly unlikely comeback bid.

Although Takamoto was the showrunner, producer, and star of RST, his absence from Top Knot, aside from some faux archival interviews, is suspiciously conspicuous. Indeed, McCann and Pearce slyly and subtly reveal his post-show fate, implying some pretty sinister machinations went on behind the scenes. In many ways, Top Knot directly compares with the sardonic Director’s Commentary: Terror of Frankenstein, but it is not as shy when it comes to revealing its scandalous secrets.

Too many cult cinema spoofs think they can get away with building some cheap retro-looking sequences around a goofy premise and call it a day (looking at you, VelociPastor). However, McCann and Pearce create a richly detailed backstory for both the fictional show and its ill-fated cast-members. As Takamoto/Tentai, Toshi Okuzaki truly thrives on ridiculous situations and humiliating circumstances. Believe it or not, Mayu Iwasaki is weirdly poignant as Matsumoto/Saku, the sensitive starlet done wrong by the media and Sutaffu. However, Masa Yamaguchi ultimately steals the picture with his droll attitude and finely turned pivots as Haruto Kioke and Kurosaki Itto, Takamoto’s nemesis in real life and on the RST show.

You can’t fillet low-budget jidaigeki TV shows with such razor-sharp precision if you don’t love the genre to begin with. McCann & Pearce earn a lot of laughs because they really understand what they are spoofing. Yet, they constantly unwrap more surprises throughout the course of the film. Highly recommended for cult cinema fans, Top Knot Detective closes the 2017 Abertoir this Sunday night (11/19), in Wales.