This just the pilot! We've made Top Knot Detective into an entire movie and you can watch the whole thing right here!
Aaron McCann already has a name in Australian comedy, having made some rather big viral hits in the past few years. So we were very excited to receive a pitch from him and fellow creator Dominic Pearce for the Comedy Runway. The pitch asked for permission to take a look through the old SBS archives and create the world’s first documentary on the little known Japanese cult series ‘Top Knot Detective’. We of course accepted.
The results have spoken for themselves and we’re very happy that we agreed to fund this adventure with the help of Screen West. We’re sure audiences will again fall in love with the mystery and insanity that was ‘Top Knot Detective’, and that this doco will help to answer some of those old questions they might have had, like: ‘Why did it end so suddenly?’, ‘Why was this show so amazing?’ and ‘Is this real or all a big joke?’.
We spoke with the creators of ‘Top Knot Detective’ to find out what working on the project was like for them, and where they plan to go with it in the future.
What is Top Knot Detective?
Aaron McCann: Top Knot Detective is a look back at this amazing, obscure early 90's Japanese samurai series that had a huge cult following in Australia in the early 00's. It's a documentary about the show and some of the bizarre behind the scenes antics that it's creator and co-stars got up to, as well as investigating how the main star ended up in jail 20+ years later. The show itself (originally titled "Ronin Suirei Tentai") was a badly put together samurai series where the central character would solve crimes and kill monsters on his journey to avenge the murder of his master... but to make such a show possible it included branded content (which was new for the time) and massive genre mashups that never quite fit in with the Edo time period the show was set it. It was sexist, badly scripted, badly acted, horribly translated and definitely fell into that "so bad it's good" category.
Dominic Pearce: Or maybe that's all bullshit. Maybe it's just a show we made up from scratch as a throwback to the types of films and TV shows both myself and Aaron used to watch on SBS in the early 90's when Des Mangan used to host the Cult Movies program during the week and you’d be constantly freaking out about the volume level in case your parents heard you watching it in the middle of the night. Maybe the idea was born out of a love affair with the entire gamut of Japanese TV and shit 90’s action shows, and wanting to hark back to an era that you keep confusing with the 80’s because you’re in denial about hitting 30 and still living with your parents.
Or maybe not.
How did the shoot come together?
AM: We were originally doing a documentary about "Double Take" which was performed in Sydney from 1986. It was a dub parody in the style of "Mystery Science Theatre 3000". The stage show was created by Des Mangan and Sally Patience. Upon investigating how this idea came together and would later spawn the Australian cult classic "Hercules Returns", we stumbled upon what Des Mangan would later describe as one of his all time favourite dubbing experiences; Top Knot Detective. Funnily enough, our film critic friend Travis Johnson was also a huge fan back in the day and had mentioned it to us before, he even collected all of the available VHS copies in known circulation. We loved how bad the production values were of the show, but what really drew us to it was the story of how a show like that could have come to be in the first place. So we set off to track down all those involved in the production and get their story, but sometimes truth really is stranger than fiction.
DP: Or... we meticulously and painstakingly tried to recreate a 90's TV show that never existed in the first place. Which meant casting Japanese actors, convincing Des Mangan to be part of the show and traveling to Japan to give our series an authentic feel. Maybe we even went as far as to dump all of the footage we shot in Japan to VHS to make it look like we found the footage on your family’s old tape collection badly scratched in between old episodes of Big Brother. Or maybe not. Look, shut up. It’s incredibly meta. META!
What makes Top Knot Detective so unique?
AM: I love to uncover bits of history that the general public have no idea about and, lets face it, everyone loves a good murder mystery. We're tackling this documentary as best we can and trawling through hours and hours of footage, interviews, behind the scenes tapes, news clippings and (of course) we want to share with the audience the show itself. It was funny and we really want to capture the nostalgia of watching that show when you were younger so we're trying to display all of the episodes in full within the framework of the documentary. Which adds some humour to an otherwise tragic story.
DP: Well we made it all from scratch and as much of it being a comedy, we're trying to add a mystery element into each of the stories. We're trying to shoot a 90's show and a modern documentary at the same time and create narrative that blends both together in a way we haven't seen before. The show within the show will always be a "bad" 90's piss take and the documentary will go from being a look back at the nostalgia of the VHS culture to being a love letter to the SBS of old and then into a "Serial" type mystery that will uncover some awful truths about the stars. Also... we don't really speak much Japanese (yet), so shooting a show in another language was a unique experience for us all and we hope that it brings out the authenticity of what we're trying to achieve.... or... maybe it's a real show and we've just been lazy and cut together all the footage we've been collecting for years... or maybe not. Do you get where I’m going with this misdirection thing? META!
So what happens next?
AM: In the documentary we're going to go into the lives of each of our central subjects; Takashi (who is still in jail) and Haruto (who now sits atop if his family’s corporate empire in Japan). There is a lot of tension between those two, even today, and we want to peel away the layers and show you how that came to be. We'll also look into this mysterious crime that was committed and try to detail what really went on. Since we're still doing a lot of research on it right now, we can't really say too much as the lawyers are going over what we can and can't reveal. But on the more positive side; we will also be looking at Travis and see more of Des and explore the lasting cult legacy of the show here in Australia. It's a fascinating behind the scene look that I hope will keep the audience gripped.
DP: The show within the show gets weird. Balls deep weird. Giant robots. More tentacle monsters. Desert Geishas. Robo-Ninjas. Time Travel. Blood. Gore. Nudity (maybe) and of course the ever present uncomfortably inserted branded content. We're also going to have a lot of fun making up all of the behind the scenes interviews and stock news footage (Such cats!) but that's all I can say for now. Either way we'll be asking our fans on social media for suggestions, feedback and to help us expand the universe of the show as it goes on so that it's truly a collaborative experience.
In short: funny shit!
Check out all the wonderful people that made this amazing pilot possible: Credits