Kamen Rider J tries out a new gimmick on an old tale. However, is that enough?
What would you do if, a year after releasing your perfect vision of what Kamen Rider is, you had to follow it up with a new take? What themes would you introduce? What elements would you remove or add in? Kamen Rider J is Keita Amemiya’s answer to that question. I really enjoyed Kamen Rider ZO, and you could get away with calling me a fan of Amemiya, but J is a tough sell. It basically tries to shake up Kamen Rider by adding a little bit of Ultraman, but its rough execution hinders it.
Kamen Rider J stars Yuuta Mochizuki as an environmental photographer on assignment to document the pollution and decay of the forest which is the setting for the entire film. He runs into a girl making graves for the dead animals, and they hang out until evil aliens come and kidnap the girl and injure him, as they are wont to do in these situations. See, the aliens need a sacrifice to power themselves before they wipe out all life on Earth. The film doesn’t really cover why that is; it just needs you to be patient while it drums up an excuse for a huge Rider Kick later. The photographer is healed by underground-dwelling people who cease to matter right after they turn him into Kamen Rider J. He gets a motorcycle, stuff gets punched, there’s a happy ending, you know the drill.
Compared to ZO and some of his other work, J gives me the feeling that Amemiya was phoning it in this time around. Every fight before the finale is lackluster, and even then, what saves the final fight is more its novelty than its choreography. You appreciate seeing a giant Kamen Rider so much, you forgive everything that precedes that moment. The first monster’s proportions are wonky, and four-legged monsters don’t really work when you can see that the stuntman has to kneel the whole time. This setback is something the Ultraman franchise usually gets around with clever camera work, but it’s too bad no one sent Amemiya that memo. The second monster doesn’t last long enough to merit consideration, and the third looks great, but its weapon really clashes with the design. It all adds up to what feels like a really lazy effort. At least that giant Rider Kick was awesome, right?
The environmentalist theme is one we’ve run into before, and it’s basically an afterthought here. All of the damage is done by the aliens, so the usual “humans need to stop polluting” message is muddled by the fact that nothing here is humanity’s fault. I see now why Kamen Rider J never comes up in discussions about Amemiya’s work. Kamen Rider ZO says all he needs to say about this particular franchise, and J just feels like that statement’s hollow echo. If you want a good standalone Rider movie, just check out ZO. And if you want more giant heroes, you’re better off with Ultraman and friends.
Happy New Year! Have you seen Kamen Rider J? Do you agree or disagree with this review? Let us know and come back next time for The War of the Gargantuas!