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Blu-Ray : Recommended
Ranking:
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Release Date: December 26th, 2023 Movie Release Year: 2017

Top Knot Detective

Overview -

Top Knot Detective is a love letter to cult movie and TV fans who love to obsess over how their WTF favorites were made. Directors Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce have fashioned a mockumentary that apes docs on pop culture nostalgia - and surprisingly, true crime - so effectively that it could credibly pass for Netflix fodder. The semi-inept '90s TV show at the center of their gleefully absurd story resembles Garth Marenghi's Darkplace in samurai garb. Umbrella Entertainment's Blu-ray set offers a thorough hour-long making-of and a soundtrack album on CD, among other bonuses. The film drags a bit, but the filmmakers' originality is winning enough that this set comes Recommended.

OVERALL:
Recommended
Rating Breakdown
STORY
VIDEO
AUDIO
SPECIAL FEATURES
Tech Specs & Release Details
Technical Specs:
The slipcover edition (designed by Charles Forsman) is limited to 1,000 units
Video Resolution/Codec:
1080p/AVC MPEG-4
Length:
89
Aspect Ratio(s):
1.85:1, 2.35:1
Audio Formats:
Cantonese, English, Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0
Subtitles/Captions:
English SDH
Special Features:
Bonus CD soundtrack
Release Date:
December 26th, 2023

Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take

Ranking:

"Deductive reasoning!" is the catchphrase constantly shouted by the hero of Top Knot Detective, the samurai mystery TV show created by and starring Takashi Takamoto (Toshi Okuzaki). However, this character is no Sherlock. Just like its creator, the Top Knot Detective is a showboating idiot whose bravado greatly exceeds his talent.

In the world of Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce's mockumentary, Takamoto's show was a short-lived Japanese hit that made its way to the Australian airwaves, to the amazement and confusion of many. VHS-trading nerds are the only ones to keep the show alive since the '90s, because the masters were withdrawn from circulation and supposedly destroyed. With cobbled-together storylines that incorporate ninja death squads, tentacle and anthropomorphic penis monsters, plus a time-traveling baseball player sidekick who is explicitly a Super Sentai/Power Rangers rip-off, the glimpses we are shown of the Top Knot Detective show are nonsensical and mostly allow McCann and Pearce ample opportunities to parody the gloriously absurd excesses of Japanese TV through the ages.

The film takes us through the tumultuous production of the show, including an ongoing rivalry between auteur Takamoto and his more talented co-star Haruto Koike (Masa Yamaguchi), who is also the son of the show's corporate sponsor. Mayu Iwasaki plays a pop star that Takamoto hires and turns out to be unexpectedly excellent. Sadly, her rise to superstardom is short-circuited by an ill-advised relationship with Takamoto. The film handles its E! True Hollywood Story plotting with convincing earnestness, especially when the story turns dark in the last half-hour. Haruto's father is murdered with a prop from the show, and Takamoto becomes the prime suspect.

If the film nails the trappings of the kind of pop culture it's mocking -- including narration from Australian cult TV host Des Mangan -- it doesn't transcend its conception as a short-run series. Top Knot Detective was written and shot to be a series of 10-minute episodes for Australia's SBS network, and the 90-minute film created from that material still feels episodic and lumpily paced. There's a lot of great material here, and it's hard not to imagine it might connect better in small doses.

Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Top Knot Detective comes packaged in a standard keepcase, with the Blu-ray and a CD including the film's soundtrack album on opposing hubs. A booklet featuring color photos and an essay by Michelle Kisner is included inside. As of this writing, there are still copies of the limited edition slipcover designed by Charles Forsman available on the Vinegar Syndrome website. The Blu-ray loads to a warning and Umbrella Entertainment logo, before landing on a still main menu with music.

Video Review

Ranking:

Top Knot Detective is a 1080p AVC-encoded multi-aspect-ratio presentation, meant to ape the style of pop culture docs. Talking head interviews have a crisp, decidedly digital look to them. The fake TV clips - most of which were shot on the same RED cameras as the interview footage - have been cropped to 1.33:1 and dubbed to VHS tape before re-digitizing to get the organic look of analog bootlegs. Staged still photographs and fake newspapers and magazines are featured full-screen sporadically - sometimes with slight animation, à la The Kid Stays in the Picture - and look convincingly vintage. A lot of care has been put into this to make everything look as good or as haphazard it should be.

Audio Review

Ranking:

One soundtrack option is offered for Top Knot Detective: a DTS-HD MA 2.0 stereo mix that features English, Japanese, and some Cantonese dialogue. All of the non-English dialogue is translated by burned-in yellow English subtitles. An optional white English subtitles track is offered for the English dialogue sections. As with the visuals, care has been taken to give this film the authentic feel of Netflix pop culture doc. The interview material is crisp while the fake '90s TV material has a little analog hiss and warble. The music by Malcolm Clark, Lance Robinson, and Mason Vellios (credited to the fake supergroup Jima Kazaro) counterpoints synth rock cues with grander dramatic passages.

Special Features

Ranking:
  • CD Soundtrack Album - A solid selection of songs produced by the pop star characters in the film and music cues by Jima Kazaro. The disc features 23 tracks and runs 45 minutes.
  • Audio commentary by directors Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce - The directors are extremely talkative, full of anecdotes from the production and appreciation for all of their collaborators. Pretty charming.
  • Original Pilot Episode (HD 9:30) - The original pilot made for SBS, back when this was a serialized project. It's a mix of material that made it to the final film and some interesting alts.
  • Team YAS Pre-Vis Fights (HD 3:36) - Test footage shot with actors Masa Yamaguchi and Mayu Iwasaki performing their fight choreography with the stunt team (who also worked on Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings). It's maybe a little surprising that the footage looks so expert and good, since the final edited fights feel much less polished in the film.
  • Behind-The-Scenes Featurette (HD 1:02:03) - A really satisfying making-of, overseen by the filmmakers. It goes chronologically, from the initial pilot episode shoot to a day-by-day look at the longer feature film shoot. It’s all accompanied by Pop-Up Video/trivia track-style written commentary providing additional info and some wry reflections on the filmmaking process.
  • Photo Gallery (HD 5:29)
  • Trailer (HD 2:07)

Final Thoughts

What an odd place that cult fandom has arrived at that a film like Top Knot Detective can come along, not only mocking the fantasy absurdity of the Japanese pop culture that has trickled into the West (well, Australia is technically the South, but you know what I mean) but the kind of documentaries that spring up celebrating the long-tail fandoms attached to such niche commodities. Stranger still, I feel like a lot of pop culture fans will get most of the references, both in the fake TV footage and the surrounding mock-doc. As one of those fans squarely in the demo, I found a lot to like in this flick. I feel like it would have fit more comfortably into 10-minute installments (as originally intended) than it does as a feature film, but I still enjoyed myself. The making-of featurette is generous and lovingly made, with plenty of info and entertainment value of its own. And the CD soundtrack is genuinely good. I've ripped it to my phone and really enjoy it. If you're a cult film and TV enthusiast, this release comes Recommended.

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