Snot Rocket and Super Detective. I’m going to just sit here for a moment and say that title out loud a few times. Snot Rocket and Super Detective. No, the original Japanese title probably doesn’t have that lovely alliteration to it, but I am savoring the way the words mash together. Kinda like half-eaten cereal falling out of a baby’s mouth.
Snot Rocket and Super Detective (that’s the last time I type that title, honest) actually provides us with the answer to what I imagine is an oft-asked question: What were Tak Sakaguchi and Yudai Yamaguchi up to before firing bullets at each other head-on in Versus and commandeering UFOs in the live-action Cromartie High School? Among other things, this … thing, which looks like it was filmed with a camera found in a box of cereal and probably cost about as much as a box of cereal. It’s crude (not just technically but aesthetically as well, as if the Snot Rocket in the title wasn’t a tipoff), juvenile, haphazard, random, inexplicable, and often quite funny.
SR&SD is actually not a single movie, but a pair of short-film anthologies created by Yamaguchi and Sakaguchi from around 1998 through the 2000s. Snot Rocket (Tebana Sankichi in Japanese) gives us the adventures of an all-Japanese crime-stopping hero (Sakaguchi) and his abacus-clutching, stupendously ugly sidekick Twice Shiro, so named because he compulsively repeats himself. Sankichi fights the bad guys by firing globs of mucous at them, and Twice’s function is to get killed—not just once, but over and over again. Eventually he’s replaced with “Triple” Shiro, who says everything three times. And then “Million” Shiro—whom Sankichi winds up waiting all night for to finish one lousy sentence. And then “Half” Shiro, who never finishes saying anything at all.
Yes, this is every bit as dumb as it sounds. It is also, again, very funny, if only in the I-can’t-believe-they-got-someone-to-do-this-in-front-of-a-camera vein that this material lends itself to. It works best if you already know Sakaguchi from his handsome-boy roles in stuff like Versus and Death Trance, thanks to the contrast between his deadly-serious persona in most of his other films and his headlong loopiness in this one. I was, however, less impressed with the second half, Super Detective, a hard-boiled noir spoof shot in black and white and sporting a slightly higher budget, but with less crazed humor. It’s a little too straightlaced for its own good, and consequently not nearly as enjoyable.
The most impressive thing, assuming “impressive” is the right word, is how Yamaguchi & Co. were able to pull most of this off for what amounted to pocket change and a whole lot of sweat. In the interview and commentary sections of the disc, Yamaguchi noted that the entire budget for the first 4-minute short was something like a hundred bucks. They had no permits, no location scouting—they just took the camera, went somewhere that looked like they could use, and began filming. When they wanted to film in “a foreign country”, they shot in Toronto for a day while on tour there to support their movies at a local film festival. When Sankichi and Million have a telekinetic duel, they tie a string around a cup and drag it across a table. The very fact that it’s so grubby and cheap makes it all the more lovable. The one thing they did spend money on was a soundtrack—the original shorts were scored with Sixties-type tunes that they couldn’t license, and so Yamaguichi drafted local band The Syrup to create a score that’s good enough to be released on its own CD.
A partial parallel could be drawn with the Japanese indie oddity Love Song for Rapper, which looked every bit as ramshackle as this, probably cost all of a dime, and despite all that was enormous fun to watch. SR&SD doesn’t aim as high or (ahem) shoot as far, but it makes me understand how loopy lunacy like Samurai School was possible.