The Origin of Kabukiman
THE ORIGIN OF KABUKIMAN
Sounds fantastic, you may say. How could it have gone wrong?
Well, at the time I just didn't get it. Namco wanted a mainstream film. They saw Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD as a chance to make a character that wasn't only in an internationally famous film, but also in toys, video games, cartoons, and in their amusement theme parks. They saw a character that was largely for kids, but could appeal to teenagers and adults as well. They saw a brightly colored, multicultural Batman. But I couldn't stay away from extremism. I saw a Troma movie. In the end, we satisfied neither side.
Andrew Osborne deserves special notice for being the first writer I worked with who sympathized with my own desire for sex and violence. He was all for making Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD as extreme as possible. Since then, I have found it much easier to work with younger writers. He and I added a lot of stuff that Michael Herz and Jeff Sass didn't want in the script. Little things. Like we had two toddlers sliced up and mutilated in the first five pages. Little stuff like that.
Namco had some reservations about the script. At the Yubari Film Festival, in the sticks of Northern Hokaido, Japan, I met with Kuninori Onishi, Namco executive, Nakamura's right-hand man, and a Development Executive on Kabukiman. Kuninori informed me that he and the others were taken aback by a scene in which a man ate worms. "Worms are a good source of protein" I told him. He told me that this didn't matter too much, that people in Japan were disgusted by the devouring of invertebrate crawlers. It didn't even cross my mind what he was telling me: showing this scene would destroy Kabukiman's chances as mainstream family fare in Japan. I was simply focus on the worms I so dearly wanted. I somehow convinced him that keeping the scene in was okay.
Rick Gianasi, the actor playing Kabukiman, joined forces with Michael, Jeff Sass, my wife Pat, and the entire corporation of Namco to make Kabukiman a mainstream film. Rick was an instrumental part of the movie. In rehearsals he would come up with many of his own lines. I trusted his judgment and consulted him often. He once expressed his desire to try his hand at directing and I let him direct one of the scenes. Rick was also the highest paid Troma actor ever. He was originally budgeted to make $50 a day, but he told us he needed $100 a day to cover his rent. Although it was extravagant, we gave it to him. However, when Rick protested a scene where a rope turns into a snake that then crawls up a guy's ass comes out of his mouth, that was going one step too far.
I had dreamed it up the night before. That day we were shooting in a gym which, coincidentally, had a climbing rope. I was ecstatic about my "visionary dream" and told everyone about it: Kabukiman would somehow through magical powers turn the climbing rope into a snake, which would slide up the bad guy's ass, and exit from his mouth, thus killing him. I had imagined the cast and crew would see how providential this all was. However, instead, they all stood before me with slightly disgusted faces.
"What?" I said. "You don't like it? It'll be great!"
No one smiled. They just stood there, staring at me as if I were insane (this is not an uncommon occurrence, by the way).
"Lloyd can I talk to you for a minute," Rick said. He led me away from the group. We stood face-to-face (or my face to his chin).
"You're doing it again," he said.
"Straying. Let me tell you something. The other day we were shooting second unit in the park. I was dressed up as Kabukiman. There were all these little kids there, and they ran up to me. There was something about Kabukiman that they were attracted to. They all wanted to jump in my arms, ride on my back. They found out Kabukiman's name and started chanting it."
"Hmm. That's interesting, Rick. You wanted to take me aside to tell me that story?"
"I realized then what a great movie for kids Sgt. Kabukiman would be. I think this is Troma's chance to move out of obscure cult, and up into the underground."
"I agree. I think kids will love it."
"So then you won't put this snake scene in?"
I stared blankly at him. He stared back at me, a little less blankly than me, but still pretty blankly.
"I don't get you," I said. "Where's the connection?"
"You can't have a kid's movie with a snake crawling up a guy's butt!"
"But it will be funny."
"It's not that funny Lloyd. It's kind of weird."
"It'll be hilarious, Rick. It's a rope turning into a snake and then crawling up a guy's ass and then coming out of his mouth."
"I know what it is. Put it in your next movie."
"I understand what you're saying. But I think I'll put it in this one," I said. I turned toward the special-effects coordinator. "Hey, Pericles! We have to figure out how to turn a rope into a snake!"
I got home from the set late that night. Pericles Lewnes, director of the Troma classic Redneck Zombies, had figured out a way to do the scene, but we hadn't had time to film it. We planned on doing it the following day. I wasn't home for long when the phone rang. It was Rick. He begged me again not to put the scene in. A week earlier he had asked me to remove another scene, where Kabukiman slices a prostitute and her pimp up into sushi. "Kabukiman's a hero!" he had said. "He's the good guy! He can't impose the death penalty for prostitution!" I had refused to listen, and kept the scene in. Now, tonight, I couldn't say no again. I told Rick I wouldn't film the rope-snake-ass scene.
The murder of the prostitute is in the film today. Countless people, upon viewing it, have agreed with Rick.
I, however, still have dreams about snakes going up my ass. If I had put the scene in Kabukiman, I probably would have purged myself of this nighttime delusion and lost my need to dream it. Fortunately, I enjoy this dream immensely.
After Sgt. Kabukimani was completed, it took seven years to get a theatrical release. We had two versions - a PG-13 version for our Japanese investors, along with many Namco and Gaga employees. The disappointment was palpable. This was not a mainstream film. The film was confused: sometimes seeming lighthearted and general-audience oriented, while other times it indulged in the violence or "trash aesthetic" that Troma was famous for. Unlike The Toxic Avenger, the differences in tone didn't seem deliberate. They seemed like what they were, an inability to fully dedicate to either one vision or the other. It was not what Namco expected and it must have been obvious that its child-geared spin-off potential was miniscule. One episode of a Sgt. Kabukiman cartoon series was made, by Andy Heywood of DIC Animation, due to the hype about the upcoming Toxic Crusaders TV series and the fact that Andy's kids loved the movie. But it led nowhere.
In May of 1996 Sgt. Kabukiman NYPD was released at the prominent New York art house Film Forum. Karen Cooper, the program director there, called the movie "The best satire on New York I've seen in years." The film did respectably, and ended up playing in a few good theaters in the U.S. and the U.K. The reviews were, overall, positive. But much of the audience - most of them Troma fans - was disappointed. Most of them want Troma to get more extreme as time goes on, and this film was mild compared to the others.
This is not to say that I (along with my fans) don't like the film. In some respects, quite honestly, it is one of our best. It's fairly well put together, well acted, and well shot. It's just that it could have been so much more if I had fully dedicated myself to one choice or the other. Michael Herz, Jeff Sass, Pat, Rick Gianasi, Namco, and Gaga all wanted me to make a film that was more mainstream. All of these people are extremely talented and intelligent. With Gaga and Namco, Troma could have been propelled into a new stratosphere of interlocked media. Michael and Jeff have both shown nearly infallible heads for business. Rick had a feeling for children's entertainment that was profound.
Still, I am certain they were all wrong.
I miss the snake going up the ass. I am upset that we only intimated that the toddlers were mutilated at the start of the film, instead of actually showing it. I regret only having worms being eaten when we could have, perhaps, had someone chowing down on a water buffalo's penis. Not enough heads were sliced there wasn't enough vomiting or pissing, and there wasn't nearly the necessary quotient of hot monkey love. Perhaps in forgetting these things I also, for a moment, forgot my place in the world.
 I actually the gentleman who invented Pac-Man. Shockingly, he was just a salaried employee with another small cubicle in the Namco building, and no percentage of the dot-eater's fortunes.
 Nakamura was so rich and powerful that his son-in-law took the bride's family name.
 In the movie, recovering bug-eater Pericles Lewnes actually ate the worms, doubling for Fumio Furuya, who was supposed to be doing so.
 The one where Lotus gets interrogated in the police station.
 At the time I was shocked - Film Forum is dedicated to art films. It was the last place I expected a Troma movie to play. Until this time, most Troma films had been played in more general establishments. Since, I am less shocked by it. Tromeo & Juliet's comparatively wide release was almost singularly at art houses.
The Birth of Troma
The Godfather of Gore Speaks
2 or 3 Things I Know About Toxie (2 and 3)
The Troma Acting Method