As the Heisei era ends, Shinichiro Shirakura examines what sets Heisei Riders apart from Showa Riders.
With the upcoming 20th anniversary film, Kamen Rider Heisei Generations FOREVER, around the corner, Shirakura sits down with Mantan to talk about the Kamen Rider revival starting with Kamen Rider Kuuga, the first new television series that began the new era of Riders. It was Shirakura’s very first project in the line and Joe Odagiri, who portrays the lead character Yusuke Godai, was noticed as an actor. As a Heisei Kamen Rider series, Shirakura believes that it wasn’t that major of a series as he looks back at it. When you think of Kamen Rider, one of the major aspects for success is having a young actor, but that wasn’t the case for Kuuga.
Kamen Rider Kuuga and Kamen Rider Agito did sweep the nation using its old fashioned contents, but it still did have a really old school feel. At one point, people felt that they were pulling material from an old vault, and that they were running out of ideas. Those who’ve been with the very first Kamen Rider, are probably parents now but they were part of the target audiences alongside their kids. Eventually Shirakura wanted to be able to tell kids that this isn’t a Showa Kamen Rider series, and that it is very much different.
Now what makes Heisei Kamen Riders different than Showa Kamen Riders and typical Japanese dramas?
Shirakura said, “we change what we change and we keep what we keep. I think about what we did to differentiate the Riders from Sentai. We had a theme of “how can we differentiate the two and not lose”. We did what we could to make them different, and then created a theme in the image of “how do we not lose?”. In the old Kamen Rider series, there was an evil organization, with a top honcho, with a hierarchy of villains, with the strongest at the top of the pyramid. That formula was then adapted into Super Sentai. If we did it that way for Rider, you’d basically end up with a Super Sentai series but with less friends, becoming very plain.”
Heisei Riders’ current villains are what makes the series different from other tokusatsu dramas.
Both Heisei and Showa Rider series aren’t about poetic justice, according to Shirakura. It’s one of the traditions that he continues to succeed.
“It’s one of Ishinomori’s policies. “Ishinomori-ism” includes protecting what has to be protected. Protecting others is a huge thing. In one of the meetings regarding the very first Kamen Rider series, they wanted to do as much as they could to not use the word “justice.” The word itself is dangerous. Fighting for the freedom and peace of others is what matters. The word “justice” did come up in a lot of theme songs in those days though. It’s a bit of a contradiction.” Shirakura comments.
“We saw an increase in followers with Ryuki. That may have been in influence with the difference but it was different from how it was thought up. In Japanese hero shows, they defend when enemies attack. It’s a needed basic. A series can’t come to fruition if enemies don’t attack. This is a very special trait: Ryuki doesn’t wait for the enemy. It’s my opinion, but I believe that’s a great showcase. We demonstrated that we can make something different. There are pros and cons but, I do think it’s an achievement. It’s bad to think, but we realized that Kamen Riders can do whatever they want. Until Kamen Rider Decade came along, we realized that there were traces of Showa era storytelling. We created the 2009 series to response to that. After about 10 years, it became less of a response to Showa, starting with Kamen Rider W. We borrowed the idea of giving our characters jobs as well as motifs. It became more closer to Super Sentai in terms of storytelling.”
Shirakura was asked about the plot of Kamen Rider Zi-O being a bit confusing to kids, as the main character travels through time, meets, and befriends past Heisei Riders while trying to protect the past, present, and future. Shirakura admits that it is difficult, but if kids can ignore reason, they created the story in a way for even kids to enjoy. But there are things that even adults wouldn’t understand.