2017 • Australia • 86 min.

Director: Aaron McCann & Dominic Pearce
Screenwriter: Aaron McCann & Dominic Pearce
Cast: Masa Yamaguchi, Toshi Okuzaki, Yoji Tatsuta

March 24, 2018 @ 12:30 pm

Harvard Film Archive

For a fleeting moment in the 90s, Ronin Suiri Tentai (or Deductive Reasoning Ronin) was a cultural phenomenon in Japan. It followed the journey of an Edo-era cop who roamed the land. Each week, he battled with samurai warriors, robots, monsters, time-traveling baseball players, and/or his own inner torment.

Its writer-director-producer-editor-star Takashi Takamoto was catapulted to fame before quickly spiraling into an ego-fueled abyss of sex, drugs, and scandal. Within a year, the show was canceled. And in Australia, the series would become an endearing cult classic known as Top Knot Detective.

It is an incredible story – except none of it actually happened.

Filmed in Perth over three years with an almost entirely Japanese-Australian cast, Top Knot Detective is equal parts spoof and satire. Through the lens of Western, pop culture preoccupation, directors Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce replicate our VHS past with loving, hyper-detailed authenticity.

You will wish this fictional series and the talk show with all the cats was real long after narrator Des Mangan – Australia’s legendary cult movie host – concludes this cautionary but oh-so-familiar tale of celebrity excess. But it is also easy to care about actors playing actors, acting when they do it with credible realism. As Takamoto’s (Okuzaki) talented rival and J-Pop crossover lover, respectively, Masa Yamaguchi and Mayu Iwasaki are standouts.

Top Knot Detective gives us a world we wish was real while holding a mirror up to the one we know all too well. We watch capable female co-stars used and abused simply because their talent and popularity is a threat. We see what happens when rabid fandoms, product tie-ins, and influencer culture distort the narratives we consume.

And we still come out of it all having way too much fun. Top Knot Detective satisfies true crime cravings and fills us with the heady comfort of 80s & 90s nostalgia. No binge watching required.

– Melinda Green

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