A love letter to the original series, Shin Kamen Rider shines where it counts most.
Coming in at just under 2 hours, Hideaki Anno’s Shin Kamen Rider is a testament to what can be done when your love for a beloved franchise gets met with years of experience telling your own stories. Just like the 1971 series, the story follows Takeshi Hongo as he finds that his body has been modified by the evil SHOCKER organization for use in their schemes for world domination. Having escaped with the help of Ruriko before he can be mind-controlled, Hongo takes on the role of Kamen Rider and vows to fight against SHOCKER so that no one else suffers the same fate as him. Eventually, he fights against and then alongside another modified human, Hayato Ichimonji, who later dubs himself Kamen Rider #2. The Double Riders must fight against SHOCKER’s various agents to prevent normal people’s life energy, or prana, from being stolen or misused.
First and foremost, the movie absolutely shows the love that Anno has for this series. He has taken great lengths to recreate shots exactly as they were in 1971 and manages to keep much of the soundtrack from the original series as well. From a story point of view, the movie manages to strike a decent blend of drama without losing itself in the weight of all the terrible things that each of the characters has to deal with. There’s more connective tissue between each fight as the heroes move through the ranks of SHOCKER’s top fighters. As such, the movie doesn’t suffer from the pacing issues of Anno’s last collaboration with Shin Ultraman. The final boss fight ends up as a scaled down brawl between opposing ideals, with each side fighting for a different idea of happiness.
Takeshi Hongo, as played by Sosuke Ikematsu, does quite the decent job of having his own take on the character without trying to be an impression of the original actor, Hiroshi Fujioka. His Takeshi is equal parts tortured but progressive. A good portion of his character is conveyed in quieter scenes where you can see him solemnly reflecting on the monster that he has become. In contrast to that, rather than letting the weight of the strength he now carries weigh him down, his words and his actions show that he has chosen to move forward with this burden so that others don’t have to. Minami Hamabe as the character of Ruriko has the unfortunate job of carrying much of the movie’s exposition. Although seemingly humorless at first, over the course of the movie, her character softens up and is shown to have just as much heart and depth much as her male counterparts. As the movie reaches about the halfway point, just as the audience might be getting weighed down by all of the angst that the characters are carrying, it’s Tasuku Emoto in his spirited take on Ichimonji Hayato that provides a much needed breath of fresh air to the story. Although his entrance into the story may lean a little too hard into what literally happened in real life events that brought on his character, the movie greatly benefits from his laid-back approach to receiving the same powers as Hongo.
While the movie may be a great example of character drama, from a technical aspect there is still much of it that might have benefited from another set of hands. A large chunk of the movie was filmed on cell phones and GoPros, giving the movie a very shaky feel throughout. The use of CG characters works in some of the smaller set pieces, but can be somewhat off-putting for extended fights. One of the biggest set pieces in the movie, in which the newly formed Double Riders take on an army of jet-black counterparts, is unfortunately so poorly lit that some of the best action is hard to make out. In some cases regarding the dialogue, the translation choices made for the movie may feel a bit stiff or out of place with odd uses of some antiquated phrases.
Despite these issues, none of that seemed to deter from the enthusiasm of the audience I saw it with. In my first screening of the movie with a packed house wearing their favorite transformation belts, fans loudly cheered as the Kamen Riders kicked their enemies into foamy oblivion. They gasped in awe when the movie made reference to some of the various manga that has been made of Kamen Rider over the years, like Kamen Rider Spirits, or very heavily, the original run by series creator Shotaro Ishinomori. If one were to stay through the credits for about a minute, you are treated to the original theme of the show, “Let’s Go! Rider Kick!” Without a second’s hesitation, the audience full of people gladly sang along, twice even.
At the end of the day, Shin Kamen Rider may not be a movie for everyone. It isn’t the most technically amazing movie of the year, with its use of CG models, dimly lit fight scenes, and questionable camera angles. What it does manage to do is capture the feel of the original series, which at the time also did not utilize the best technology that was available. This movie does what the director set out to do, which was to share with the audience the same feeling that they got when they watched the show as a kid. As a whole, the film has a lot to say about grief and loneliness, in that only by moving forward from grief can one actually change for the better. At times the movie is violent and overly serious, and then makes you giddy with childhood excitement at some of its goofiness and over the top action. And in that regard, it’s because of that mix that this movie is a good adaptation of the original show.