AARON McCANN & DOMINIC PEARCE Top Knot Detective, and the cult of classic cult

The phenomenal mockumentary Top Knot Detective received it’s big screen debut at the Revelation Perth International Film Festival over the weekend. It’s a film that explores the obscure (possibly due to the fact that it is fake) 90s cult classic TV show Ronin Suirai Tantei, or as we know it here Top Knot Detective. It’s a sprawling love letter to cult Asian cinema and TV, and Australia’s fascination with shows such as Monkey, The Samurai, and Power Rangers. DAVID O’CONNELL spoke to directors Aaron McCann and Dominic Pearce about how they created a nostalgic cult classic of yesterday, today.

The idea for Top Knot Detective arose from McCann asking Pearce for advise on an upcoming trip to Japan. Pearce recounted a day of strangeness, when broke and hungover, that he spent the day channel surfing in a Tokyo hotel.

“Me and my partner we just stayed in the room all day and kept swapping between channels,” explained Pearce. “One was an all day Sumo marathon, the other was Abarenbō Shōgun which was a really long running Japanese show about Samurai (830 episodes). There wasn’t subtitles, but pretty much the same thing kept happening just in a different location. It was amazing! I started telling Aaron about this, and we started going back and forth thinking it would be cool making one of these crappy Japanese Samurai series like this, and we went from there.”

From here the script went through a number of iterations, as McCann and Pearce toyed with various ideas. During this process they also garnered the interest of the SBS Comedy Runway initiative, firmed up finance, and hit upon the idea of creating a mockumentary.

“When we are watching Samurai films we were also watching a lot of documentaries about Samurai films,” admitted Pearce. “So we cut together a proof of concept with the Samurai film, and the documentary, just because we couldn’t afford to shoot an entire film about Feudal Japan-so we had to find a way of putting some gaps in.

The result is a film that had a wide range of cult influences and references including Power Rangers (Super Sentai), Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (but 90’s not 80’s), Shintaro! (the Aussie show looking back at the Samurai), The Jinx (which gave them the idea for a murder sub plot), Zatoichi, Lone Wolf and Cub, and a lot of cult films from 90s SBS and (writer) Des Mangan.”

“That was a big part of our film education,” explained Pearce. “We bonded talking about staying up late watching cult movies on early-era SBS. Things we weren’t supposed to watch, but our parents didn’t know as we’d stay at grandma’s. How informative that channel was on many of our tastes – Ninja Scrolls, Neon Genesis, Akira, Jackie Chan. It’s so easy to access that kind of stuff now, but back then it was the only place to find it.”

So obviously they would go to that curator of that cult weirdness to be one of the voices in the film, along with Dario Russo (Danger 5), Lee Lin Chin, Guitar Wolf, Shonen Knife, and a whole host of others.

It was a cast and crew that understood the concept, and was able to execute it on a budget. “We had a budget in mind… and we had half that,” said McCann, adding that coming from a very DIY background, the team was used to making money stretch. “We had an amazing cast and crew putting effort and time to build amazing costumes and sets. We got in actors with a stunt background to do the ninja work and the sword work. Masa Yamaguchi (The Wolverine, Ghost in the Shell) choreographed it to look right.”

The result is more than just revisiting of 90s nostalgia, but with its documentary structure it is able to explore a darker and more complex narrative, taking place behind the scenes of Ronin Suirai Tantei.

With all the hallmarks of a cult classic Top Knot Detective just needs to grow its fan base. “Now we are at the beginning of stage of film festival release,” said McCann. “We’ve so much behind the scenes stuff, and fan created content , it would be wonderful to share that with people through a blu-ray release (although none is yet planned). It would also be great to share our thoughts on how we made it. I got most of my Cinema education from DVD commentaries, and it would be great to return the favour.”

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