Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD (1990) – Raw Mackerel and Killer Chopsticks

orun time
1h 45m
rated
PG-13
our score
5.5

Once I became aware of Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D., any reluctance to dive into Troma movies evaporated.

The trailer for Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. blew me away with its absurdist embrace but left me with slight trepidation.

My ongoing search for the best “So bad it’s great” movies has refined my bad movie pretentiousness, unfortunately, and Sgt. Kabukiman seriously toes the line between the genuinely fun and flubbed projects and those that are made with a self-aware wink and a nod.

Sgt. Kabukiman somehow falls somewhere in the middle: It’s an intentionally bizarre concept done with a wink and nod, but it definitely trips and falls a few times too.

Sgt. Kabukiman’s greatest weakness is one of the best reason’s to watch it: the non-politically correctness of the 1980s. Kabukiman often comes off as racially insensitive and stereotypical just for the expense of its many flat jokes. Yet there still some bizarre, macabre sort of charm to this intentionally weird film.

Sgt Kabukiman GIF

Sgt. Kabukiman starts out with the hallmark of a “great” movie: exposition. Right off the bat, Lotus (Susan Byun) gives a thinly veiled semi-racist “prophecy” crammed with as many Japanese cultural buzz-words recited by. The Prophecy reads more like someone threw a bunch of those poetry magnets on a refrigerator and wrote the outcome.

At the end of Mercury’s next journey, the Dragon shall dance through the hoop of Jupiter. If at that moment the Monkey will ride the Jaguar and the Tiger will feast on the Nubile, the order of the Universe will be such that the Evil One will reign supreme for Eternity!

Lotus

the first of several times she recites this prophecy

Her grandfather is the Kabukiman, a hero that channels a Kabuki Spirit that’s passed down from one generation of Kabuki actors to the next. Grandfather goes to the local American Kabuki theater that night to give the performance of a lifetime. The other Kabuki actors on stage reveal themselves to be bad guys and kill Grandpa on stage much to the delight of the crowd that thinks it’s all just part of the show.

Our hero, Detective Harry Griswold (a perfectly-cast Rick Gianasi) is in attendance at the show as he investigates a potential crime ring. Griswold laughs along with everyone as bullets fly, but when he realizes the woman in the audience sitting next to him is dead, Griswold jumps into action.

Sgt. Kabukiman
Griswold asserting his dominance.

The main henchman Rembrandt (Thomas Crnkovich) hams it up over the entirety of the film, with his obnoxious and obvious blond wig. Rembrandt shoots Grandpa and indiscriminately shoots into the crowd while laughing maniacally.

Griswold falls near the dying grandpa, who bestows the powers and abilities of Kabukiman into Griswold by forcibly making out with him. Griswold, of course, has the “gay panic” reaction that’s so typical of the late 80s and early 90s.

Now infused with the dead spirit of a kabuki superhero, Detective Harry Griswold transforms to Sargeant Kabukiman!

The majority of the following “comedy” revolves around Griswold’s inability to control when he becomes Kabukiman, as well as the misinterpretations of Japanese culture by either himself or his peers.

His shoes melt and become wooden sandals, his face keeps leaking white and red kabuki paint, and his clothes constantly change into a kimono.

Sgt. Kabukiman
Griswold’s apartment is a great, but fleeting, visual gag

Griswold needs to train with Lotus in order to harness and control his Kabukiman abilities, but Griswold wants nothing to do with the powers whatsoever. We meet the rich bad guy Mr. Reginald Stuart (Bill Weeden), the current embodiment of “The Evil One” which Kabukiman is destined to battle.

Weeden does a great job in the role of Mr. Stuart, and I can’t help but think that he was only cast because of how powerful his thick black caterpillar eyebrows are against his shock of white hair. There’s a real Max
Shreck quality about him.

Sgt. Kabukiman
Mr. Stuart with his hammy henchfolk.

All of Mr. Stuart’s henchmen seem culled from a Craigslist ad for “hamfisted and unsophisticated acting.” Rembrandt spends the film laughing maniacally under an obvious blond wig. I spent the majority of the film trying to figure out if it was an actor choice, or character choice, until the climax of the movie where Rembrandt’s wig comes off to show his actual hair is also styled like a woman.

Some of the most entertaining gags in Sgt. Kabukiman are all in the background. I’m very partial to any and all scenes that take place in the Police Department, especially anywhere in the bullpen or near Griswold’s desk.

The bullpen scenes are good examples of “bad movie subtlety.” It threw me off because it toed the line between possibly intentional, and possibly just bad extras, as the police station is always crammed with extras just behind Gianasi. But what’s so great is the film always uses natural sound for these scenes.

Instead of muting the extras, or having the main actors do ADR over the scene, the production opts for the ambient sound which leads to a shitload of background shuffling, mumbling and over exaggerated expressions and movements. So you can always hear the extras in the background pretending to talk and act quietly (but not quiet enough) and it’s just hilarious.

Chopsticks GIF
Another clear example of people being told to ham it up in the bullpen.

My favorite segment of the entire film happens around halfway through. Griswold has refused training from the beautiful Lotus, so the Kabuki spirit inside him remains untethered and uncontrolled. He tries to summon the Kabuki spirit anyway, but can’t. Instead, he summons the spirit of… Bozo the clown?

It’s not fully explained. Or explained at all, even.

Since they don’t tell us the point of this segment, I will try to break it down myself. Griswold confronts the bad guy and cannot summon Kabukiman, but Bozoman, and immediately high-tails it the fuck out of there because his gun turned into a classic prop gun with a “BANG!” flag sticking out the barrel.

Thus begins the reverse chase-scene, where Griswold as Bozoman tries his damnedest to escape the hilarious situation. His shoes squeak as he runs, and Bozoman only runs with high knees like he’s trying to step through tires on the ground. He steals a bicycle, almost immediately crashes it into a truck, salvages the bike by turning it into an escape unicycle then uncontrollably starts doing magic tricks and blowing fire.

Troma GIF

Griswold takes up Lotus on her offer (demand) to train him to fully harness Kabukiman’s powers in the most boring stretch of the film. Griswold and Lotus bond and become closer over the “training” which mostly revolves around Griswold hanging upside down while Lotus belts him in the nuts, repeatedly, with a stick of bamboo.

The sexual tension in the training section make Griswold and Lotus bang it out, and we’re treated to Susan Byun’s delightful nudity. It’s a major surprise for a PG-13 film. Also, for a bad movie, the sex scene actually was not terrible. It feels weird to say that this was a “decent sex scene,” but compared to the uncomfortable nude scenes from The Room or Samurai Cop this was a breath of fresh air.

Mr. Stuart thinks that because he killed Grandpa, he successfully eliminated the Kabukiman. Mr. Stuart wants to make the prophecy come true and become “The Evil One.”

Sgt. Kabukiman
Anybody else have a weird craving for some snot?

Mr. Stuart wants to bring the bizarre prophecy to fruition in the most literal of manners. Oh, you don’t remember the prophecy? Well, watching this movie has seared every stupid word of the prophecy into my brain, and it is as follows:

At the end of Mercury’s next journey, the Dragon shall dance through the hoop of Jupiter. If at that moment the Monkey will ride the Jaguar and the Tiger will feast on the Nubile, the order of the Universe will be such that the Evil One will reign supreme for Eternity!

Lotus

one of the many times the prophecy is recited

So what does that mean, exactly? It means that an actual monkey would drive a Jaguar car and that Mr. Stuart would cart in a literal tiger to eat a nubile woman alive. For real. Lucky Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. and Lotus manage to save the day and defeat The Evil One.

Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. is an oddball film and I could not get my finger on the pulse. It’s intentionally broad and absurdist. I want to say tongue-in-cheek but it’s really a tongue-out-of-cheek movie. Normally, I can’t stand bad movies being intentionally weird-for-the-sake-of-weird, but there’s some hidden charm about this movie that I don’t quite understand. I swung wildly between loving it and hating it.

Maybe it’s the unabashed embrace of the opposite-of-subtle content. Like in one of the most notorious moments in Sgt. Kabukiman is the deadly chopsticks scene:

Chopsticks GIF

I mean, come on!

OTHER NOTABLE MOMENTS

  • The first kills in the movie are when Rembrandt stabs two little girls in the face… with a katana.
  • Our introduction to Harry Griswold is while he eats a disgusting amount of sauerkraut. I almost turned the movie off, it was so offputting.
  • I actually felt physically uncomfortable several times during this movie.
  • Sgt. Kabukiman rolls up two prostitutes and a pimp, then cuts them up into giant… sushi rolls?
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Kabuki-Sushi.jpg
  • There’s one moment barely 2 mins into the film that set the tone. Two wall street yuppies stand in front of an apartment building on the curbside doing rails of cocaine off the top of a Mercedes convertible.
    • They laugh and snort and say how women will be falling all over them, only to have a woman actually physically fall from a window above onto them.
    • Everyone near the hotel (bystanders, the door man, others) all crane their necks to see the accident and a little person walks by for extra comedic effect.
  • Griswold repeatedly shoots a man in the dick and balls.
  • The police captain is your stereotypical angry, screaming captain from every cop movie.
  • Sgt. Kabukiman defeats one of the main antagonists by… magically turning him into four hot dogs? Why? All of dude’s clothes disintegrated except for his untied hi-tops. Why hot dogs? The only connection I can make here is to how the Japanese perform so well in hot dog eating contests? I’m not sure about this one.
Sgt. Kabukiman
  • Griswold reads the Miranda Rights to a dude he’s shot in the head who subsequently dies.
  • A lot of the intentional comedy falls flat, but it’s funny in a lot of other places.
  • Sgt. Kabukiman wields two giant folding fans and he can fan with such force it blows his enemies offscreen and into the trees.
  • Sgt. Kabukiman shuts up a woman by throwing sushi in her mouth-hole.
  • At one point Sgt. Kabukiman gets run over and is flattened like a cartoon. At least it made sense when it happened in The Mask.
Chopsticks GIF
  • When in doubt, queue the Ragtime piano comedy music to underscore the scene.
  • The various car chases are all hyper-fast because they just played the tape double speed.
  • There are a couple bizarre fourth-wall breaking moments, like when Giansi turns the camera after a scene change and says:

Nice dissolve, huh?

Rick Giansi

hamming it up for the camera

  • Pagliacci plays in the background during the Bozoman scene.
  • If Kabukiman is some ancient, centuries-old superhero then why have only three people heard of him?
  • I swear Rembrandt’s wig changed multiple times over the course of the film.
  • The Foley artist when a little overboard on the kissing sound effects. Really gross. When Lotus and Harry make out, it sounds like when my cats eat Fancy Feast.
  • Susan Byun’s screaming is unmatched.
  • Some of the best jokes are ADR’ed in the background dialogue and easy to miss.

MEMORABLE QUOTES

Bullets fly and rip my flesh! Even I am not immune to the dazzling gunplay. I’ve almost been cut in half!

Reporter

moments before being gunned down on live tv

First, I’m kissed by a guy and now I’m in a dress.

Harry Griswold

ignorant of the kimono

I like a dog-faced monkey that has an appreciation for expensive sports cars.

Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD

Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. (1990)
CROSSED EYES
8
RACIST UNDERTONES
7
TESTICLES BEATEN BY BAMBOO STICKS
2
PEOPLE KILLED BY TRADITIONAL JAPANESE FOLDING FANS
7.5
TIMES PEOPLE SAY 'NETHER REGIONS'
10
Positives
Rick Gianasi's acting
Great, if cheesy, practical effects
There's a solid blowjob fakeout
Negatives
That rape scene was pretty rough and tonally inconsistent
I think I liked the idea more than the execution
Too many extreme closeups
5.5

Watch the trailer for Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. (1990):

OR you can actually watch Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. (1990) in its entirety:

 

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