Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D (1991)
By: Devon B. on January 7, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Stomp Visual (Australia). All Regions, NTSC. 4:3. English DD 2.0. 104 minutes
The Movie
Director: Michael Herz, Lloyd Kaufman
Starring: Rick Gianasi, Susan Byun, Bill Weeden, Thomas Crnkovich, Noble Lee Lester, Brick Bronsky, Larry Robinson, Pamela Alster
Screenplay: Lloyd Kaufman, Andrew Osborne, Jeffrey W. Sass
Country: USA
It was the early 90s when I read about Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. in the first issue of The Toxic Avenger comic. Being young and impressionable, I fell for the Troma propaganda in the comic, and decided I wanted to see Kabukiman. As I actually saw more of Troma's oeuvre, I realized maybe Troma were not the bastions of excellent, off-kilter independent cinema I had initially thought, but I still would have watched Kabukiman. Unfortunately, Kabukiman was unavailable. Despite being finished in 1990, the film was not available until 1997, so don't believe the claim that it was an 'overnight' success found in the special features. Before the film finally got a video release, trailers started popping up on other Troma titles. The trailer featured a line parodied from Tim Burton's Batman, which immediately made it seem passé, even in the late 90s. The trailer's not a problem here though, because this is the Region 4 release, which is STILL just the original NTSC Troma DVD with the trailer section and the Troma Intelligence Test simply crossed out on the menu! Those who've suffered Stuff Stephanie in the Incinerator will undoubtedly be worried about the quality of a delayed Troma movie, but Kabukiman was actually much better than I expected.

As usual, the film begins with an intro by Lloyd Kaufman, and in a truly rare occurrence, Lloyd isn't introduced as 'President of Troma Studios and Creator of the The Toxic Avenger,' but is instead 'co-director of Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D.' Lloyd mentions some behind the scenes stuff available on the disc, but I didn't find that. For some reason, if I pressed pause during this segment, the DVD would return to the special feature I had last viewed.

The film proper begins with a wigged assassin attacking a family. It's a Troma movie, so two of Lloyd's children are murdered in the first few minutes. Anyway, the patriarch of the family was due to receive the power to channel Kabukiman that night at a kabuki performance, but he can't now because he's dead. Makes sense. Police officer Harry (or Karry as it's spelled on one section of the DVD sleeve) Griswold, played by Rick Gianasi, goes to the kabuki performance. When assassins kill the current kabuki channeller, he is forced to pass the power on to Griswold via a worm laden kiss. Griswold immediately starts turning Japanese, I really think so. The granddaughter of the kabuki artist formerly able to call the powers of Kabukiman tells Harry he must use his new strengths to fight The Evil One. Harry has trouble understanding what's happening to him, naturally, and most of the film is him dealing with the transition before being able to become Kabukiman with any element of control. Then the film gets a bit frantic.

While prior to Harry developing skill as Kabukiman the film has a few distracting elements, after that point the film becomes a jumbley mess. The film takes over an hour to go fully Kabuki, and then suffers from choppy editing. Knowing how Lloyd works, he presumably shot over four hours of footage again. The film's pacing is a little off for the first half, but once all the setup is done, it's like a frenzied race to cram all the other scenes in. The film feature's an annoying voice over that unnecessarily explains things early on, then will disappear for large sections of the film, but was necessary to link up things during the movie's second half so audiences could make some sort of sense of what was happening. Continuity problems plague the film throughout, so I'm sure footage is missing from the first hour as well. While there's nothing as confused as the climax battle outta nowhere from Toxic Avenger II, Kabukiman suffers greatly overall from this chaos.

Troma fans should be well aware of what's coming with Kabukiman, and I don't just mean the spectacular car crash that was later recycled for many subsequent Troma releases. The performances are the standard mix of quality, misfired gags are intermingled with moments of inspiration, and the FX quality varies. I particularly enjoyed the digs at Al Sharpton, and there're plenty of familiar faces for Troma fans, including Rick Collins (the bad guy from Toxic Avenger II and III) doing a terrible English accent.

Troma fans should be reminded that Kabukiman is from the era where Troma were trying to go more mainstream, so the film is far more restrained then things like Redneck Zombies or Terror Firmer. There are two phrases I'm very sceptical of in Troma marketing. The first is 'director's cut.' Troma jumped on the 'director's cut' bandwagon nearly a decade ago, but the problem is that most of their 'director's cut' releases are the same as the original release. Even worse was Toxic Avenger II, which had several faux 'director's cut' releases on different mediums before finally being unleashed truly uncut in The Tox Box. There were two different cuts of Kabukiman, a PG-13 (roughly equivalent to an M) and an unrated (which in this case translated to an R here). Fans will be pleased that Kabukiman truly is the 'director's cut,' but even so, don't expect full on Troma excess.
Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.33:1. Troma until recently remained vigilant in keeping films in their correct ratio, but unfortunately have caved in to 16:9 demands and cropped The Toxic Avenger. Thankfully this disc was produced before Troma gave up. The film is pretty grainy, and has specks and blotches on it. The image is not particularly clear, but this may be due to the quality of the film itself and not the transfer. Or, more likely, it's a little of both. Blacks get lost easily, and the print features a few glitches where the image wavers. The other phrase I find dubious from Troma is 'digitally remastered.'
The audio is 2 channel stereo. The volume is a little low, but the mix is clear. It's not overly impressive, but it is up to par with Troma's standard quality. Much of the score is based on the opera Madam Butterfly, which is a nicely done East meets West reference. There is some painfully obvious ADR, and occasionally 'S' hisses, but otherwise, I have no complaints, and this is the film's original audio, so neither will purists.
Extra Features
Once again, Troma offer a loaded up DVD, even with two of the main extra sections missing.

There's the old standards: The ad for Lloyd's book; Aroma du Troma, clips of Troma film's set to Mötorhead's 'Sacrifice,' which still begs the question of why this is okay if the trailers and T.I.T. aren't; Tour of Troma; the first public service announcement about masturbation; Troma's website address; and, wait for it, the Radiation March short. Let it go, Lloyd! No more Radiation March!!!

Specific extras are also here. There's a still selection, scene specific commentary by Gianasi, a Troma Café Clip featuring Gianasi, a terrible Kabukiman rap, a clip from the animated pilot, and a snippet on Kabukiman being accused of sexual harassment. The last is very silly, but it was ripped off for a special feature on the DVD of The Rundown (AKA Welcome to the Jungle). The sexual harassment snippet may be of interest for those wanting to see how Kabukiman's character developed and degenerated into the drunken letch he was in Citizen Toxie, as it occurred in these sort of sketches.

A commentary track on the main feature is also provided by Lloyd, who is more restrained this time out, but still divulges plenty of info, including the character's origins, and dead pans dry, loving digs at Troma. Lloyd is interesting as usual, though once again comes up with a message behind the movie that it's a fair bet many of the audience members didn't walk away with. One of the more interesting things Lloyd discusses is that the aftermath of a gang assault on a female jogger is not as satirical as one might think.
The Verdict
Overall, Kabukiman is one of Kaufman's more inspired creations, and while the film isn't the best Troma has to offer, it's far from the worst. It's an okay time waster, and I didn't mind it, particularly the first half before crunch time set in. The disc has enough features for fans of the film to make it a worthwhile addition to the collection.
Movie Score
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