Even if the film’s pacing is both its blessing and curse, Hideaki Anno’s Shin Kamen Rider is a highly entertaining and intentionally campy homage to the classic Japanese character.
Hideaki Anno is one of the most respected Japanese animators of the modern generation. His creations have significantly influenced the anime industry and Japanese pop culture: he’s deemed one of the medium’s first auteurs. The project that made the public fall in love with his work is Neon Genesis Evangelion. Ever since it ended, back in 1996, Anno continued expanding the lore of his creation with notable works, such as Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time and The End of Evangelion. Most recently, he has reimagined the stories of some Japanese icons, Ultraman and Godzilla, to create his own “Shin” trilogy. Because of the success of these two films, Anno has the chance to take a crack at another classic character with Shin Kamen Rider.
Made to celebrate the Japanese superhero’s 50th anniversary, Shin Kamen Rider returns to the beginning. It tells the origin story of the Kamen Rider, particularly the Grasshopper and Spider augments, which resembles the classic fight between good and evil. Explaining what happens in this film in full detail is a challenging task, since there’s no buildup in the film. It starts with a quick pace and never looks back. So, if you are a fan or know about the source material, you are already ahead of the pack. For the rest of the audience (aka, me and others who just watched the movie because of Hideako Anno’s name), it will be hard to understand the story from the get-go.
Shin Kamen Rider begins with a high-speed chase that provides a glimpse of the film’s occasionally derailed pacing, which is both its blessing and curse, depending on who you talk to. So who’s at the center of this commotion? A motorcyclist named Hongo Takeshi (Ikematsu Sosuke) who was kidnapped by the SHOCKER (which stands for Sustainable Happiness Organization with Computational Knowledge Embedded Remodeling) organization, a cult-like program that seeks happiness for all of humanity.
During his entrapment, Takeshi is transformed into a mutant cyborg: his persona is now fused with the Grasshopper Augment-01, powered by prana – the life energy that resides in humans and the Earth’s atmosphere. Joining him on his journey is Midorikawa Ruriko (Hamabe Minami), whose father, Dr. Midorikawa Hiroshi, was the man behind Takeshi’s insect-human augmentation.
The doctor forces Takeshi to go onto a path of violence to meet his goals. This is all part of his quest to defeat the evil corporation that has held society hostage for many years. But to what extent? None of this is for Takeshi’s good; what occurs during the film’s two-hour-and-fifteen-minutes runtime just makes him a troubled man. The situation he’s going through reminds you a bit of Neon Genesis Evangelion’s Ikari Shinji, a deeply flawed protagonist who made bad decisions for selfish reasons only because he thought he was doing the right thing.
What follows in Shin Kamen Rider is a series of entertaining and bloody fights between Takeshi and the SHOCKER goods and fellow augmented soldiers. Some of these fights do leave a lot to be desired. You’d expect more from the man who reinvented what a Godzilla film could be in the modern era with Shin Godzilla in 2017. But, even in the worst of them, their look brings a pantomime and intentionally campy factor that I enjoy quite a lot, especially when the screen is painted crimson red during some fight scenes. And this element is essential when making tokusatsu, a Japanese term for live-action sci-fi or fantasy film/television series that makes heavy use of practical special effects. There are instances where it starts to dwindle into schlocky D-movie territory because of some special effects that don’t look quite right. But, in the grand scheme of things, it doesn’t impact how entertaining the film is overall.
There have been plenty of Kamen Rider reinventions throughout the years. From the looks of it, as I haven’t been able to see most due to these pictures being pretty hard to find in a good (or watchable) quality, each one sticks to the essence of tokusatsu filmmaking and the classic Japanese character’s story. Hideaki Anno does the same thing with Shin Kamen Rider, making a film that celebrates the character more than renovating what fans have seen before. It is an homage, a love letter to the fans and creators of the show. You definitely feel the director’s passion oozing from the screen.
Fans know this is complex material for a director to get a hold of in just two hours, since it goes way back to the 1970s. Yet, there’s a bit of a problem with Shin Kamen Rider serving as an introduction to people who don’t know much about it. The Japanese filmmaker has to cram the lore and explanation of the Kamen Riders into very busy scenes. This is why this one feels low-risk compared to his other works. The film is often divided into presenting one plot exposition dump, and later going into a fight scene. That isn’t completely bad, as you’d expect such structure from these types of movies. Yet, you don’t get entirely involved with the characters, as their personalities are undercooked and lack the proper development in their respective arcs.
Regardless, audiences that seek some B-movie fun and a pulpy good time might want to venture into Hideaki Anno’s vision of the Kamen Riders. I definitely enjoyed this campy and flawed throwback to tokusatsu filmmaking.
Shin Kamen Rider is now showing in select US theaters and will be out nationwide on June 5, 2023.