The film follows Sergeant Detective Harry Griswold (Rick Gianasi), a clumsy N.Y.P.D. cop investigating a string of murders involving Kabuki actors. While attending an amateur Kabuki play, Harry witnesses thugs gun down the entire cast. In the ensuing gunfight, Harry is forcefully kissed by one of the dying actors, unknowingly becoming blessed with the powers of Kabuki. Before he knows it, Griswold finds out that he has the ability to transform into Kabukiman, a colorfully dressed slapstick superhero who has the ability to fly and access to such unique weapons as heat seeking chopsticks and fatal sushi.
With the assistance of the beautiful Lotus (Susan Byun), he helps clean up the crime-ridden streets of New York and try to stop maniacal businessman Reginald Stuart (Bill Weeden) and his Goons, who plan to fulfill an ancient evil prophecy that will summon The Evil One whose demonic powers can enslave the world.
While filming The Toxic Avenger Part II in Japan, where the original Toxic had been a major hit, Kaufman and Herz were approached by Tetsu Fujimura and Masaya Nakamura of Namco to create a Kabuki-themed superhero film, supposedly based on an idea by Kaufman. Namco became a producer, giving Troma a one and a half million dollar budget to begin preproduction.
Creative differences troubled production from the start; both Namco and Herz wanted a mainstream-accessible film geared towards children, whereas Kaufman wanted the usual Troma-esque sex and violence style. The film was eventually cut into both PG-13 and R-rated versions.
Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. premiered at the American Film Institute in 1990. Although Kaufman screened Kabukiman at the Cannes Film Festival for several years, the film did not see theatrical distribution until 1996, when the PG-13 cut was exhibited.
Stephen Holden of The New York Times called it "funny in a Mad Magazine-manque sort of way". A positive review from The New York Post is prominently featured on the video package. The film was also reviewed by Siskel & Ebert. Despite giving it a thumbs down, Ebert compared it favorably to another independent film, Switchblade Sisters.
Since the film's video debut in 1990, Sgt. Kabukiman has gone on to make several appearances in the "Tromaverse", becoming one of the company's most well-known mascots next to The Toxic Avenger. Kabukiman (played by Paul Krymse in a simpler costume) can be seen in a number of Troma commercials and video introductions throughout the 1990s. Most notably, Kabukiman was one of the prominent figures on Troma's Edge TV, where he appeared in a short parody of old public service announcement films, entitled Sgt. Kabukiman Public Service Announcement, which was directed by former Troma employee and current Hollywood director/screenwriter James Gunn.
Plans for a Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. animated series also went into the works, however the series never went to production. There had only been an animated teaser that was completed, it has since been made available as a bonus feature on the Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. DVD. The cartoon was to feature the Kabukiman character, and a number of Japanese themed super-heroes fighting crime in New York, with similar parallels to Troma's other animated spin-off, Toxic Crusaders.
The character of Kabukiman made the return to the silver screen in 2001's Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV, where he was once again played by Paul Kyrmse. In the film, Kabukiman has gone "from a serious superhero to a pathetic, drunken has-been who is looked upon with disdain by the citizens of Tromaville", states film critic Chris Gore. This change in character persona is attributed to fan backlash from the original film. Kabukiman is also portrayed as "Evil Kabukiman" in an alternate universe: a less wacky, more threatening villain.
Since 2000, there have been rumors that a sequel, Sgt. Kabukiman L.A.P.D., would be made, but as of 2010, there are no plans to revive the series. A sequel/spin-off called Sgt. Kabukiman and the Lesbians of Bonejack High started production in early 2006, but was ultimately never finished.
Kabukiman makes an appearance in the upcoming Return to the Class of Nuke 'Em High alongside the Toxic Avenger in a party scene as a tribute to his similar cameo in Tromeo & Juliet from 1996.
Creator Lloyd Kaufman has revealed that Kabukiman will have a large role in the upcoming Toxic Twins: The Toxic Avenger V.
Kabukiman appeared in the "We Are All Made of Stars" music video by Moby in 2002 with The Toxic Avenger, signing an autograph for Leelee Sobieski.
Most recently, in 2015 the character has returned to host a talk show for the TromaMovies YouTube Channel called "Kabukiman's Cocktail Corner" where he interviews and interacts with all kinds of performance artists including musicians (Unicorn Smack, The Cowmen, Circus Life) comedians (Dave Hill, Zac Amico, Brian Quinn), authors (Frank Casesse), tattoo artists (Paul Booth) and more. A first season has been completed and a 2nd series is in production. The character is played by Doug Sakmann, who was passed the Kabuki-mantle from Paul Kyrmse in 2001.
Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. is perhaps best known for its car chase scene that happens midway through the film where several carloads of gangsters chase Harry Griswold, wearing a clown costume, through the streets of Jersey City, which climaxes when one of the cars, a 1977–79 Ford Thunderbird strikes another vehicle, flips upside-down 30 feet in the air, lands, and then inexplicably explodes. Five years later, exactly the same footage was used in a scene in Tromeo and Juliet for not only being cost-effective, but also because Kabukiman had yet to be widely distributed on video (and thus brought some confusion as to which film the footage originated from).
Despite obvious continuity flaws, Troma has managed to fit the same footage into each of their films as a tongue-in-cheek homage, including Terror Firmer, Citizen Toxie: The Toxic Avenger IV, Poultrygeist, and Return to Nuke 'Em High Vol.1.