SHIN KAMEN RIDER is a Thrilling Love Letter to the Tokusatsu Icon

The film has yet to get US distribution and was screened as part of a Fathom Event. Thanks to the popularity of the May 31st screening, another night was added on June 5th. You can get more info here.

Shin Kamen Rider has anime auteur Hideaki Anno (Neon Genesis Evangelion) reimagining, yet another iconic Japanese Tokusatsu property, in what’s being dubbed as the Shin Japan Heroes Universe. (Shin in Japanese here means “new”) In this project Anno has updated not only his own property Neon Genesis Evangelion, but also Godzilla, Ultraman and now  he’s tackling a long time personal favorite Kamen Rider. (There’s famously a photo of a young Anno dressed in full Rider attire) In a canon that has over 30 iterations, Anno has chosen to focus on not only the original 1971 TV series, but Shotaro Ishinomori’s companion manga that ran congruent with Kamen Rider’s original airings. Kamen Rider was not based on that manga, but Ishinomori’s previous work Skull Man, and was then adapted for younger audiences swapping the rather grim skull moniker out for a grasshopper, which is synonymous with good luck. 

For those who’ve never heard of Kamen Rider, the origin story is always pretty similar. He or she is a daring motorcycle enthusiast, who is then kidnapped and augmented by a secret organization called S.H.O.C.K.E.R ( here S.H.O.C.K.E.R stands for – Sustainable Happiness Organization with Computational Knowledge Embedded Remodeling) and given superhuman strength and powers as an ultimate weapon. S.H.O.C.K.E.R also has a thing for animal-human hybrids, which were winks and nods to American comics (Man Bat, Man Spider) and Kamen Rider is a grasshopper (?!) who gets his power from harnessing the power wind in his beltbuckle. Of course the righteous Kamen Rider turns against his creators, and then the entire show/manga/movie has him facing off against a rogues gallery of man-animal combinations as he attempts to take S.H.O.C.K.E.R down. Here that template is adhered to pretty closely with the film starting mid action sequence as Takeshi Hongo (Sôsuke Ikematsu) has just woken up as the rider and is fleeing S.H.O.C.K.E.R with the daughter of the scientist who created him Ruriko Midorikawa (Minami Hamabe) in tow.

From there, Anno works at breakneck pace trying to include as many of S.H.O.C.K.E.R’s creations and easter eggs for fans as possible, as he tells the story of a much more conflicted Rider than in the source. The film’s opening has Kamen Rider using his trademark “Rider Punch” and “Rider Kick” on the S.H.O.C.K.E.R henchmen literally causing them to explode on impact. This is because the suit is tuned to prioritize the Rider’s survival above all else, when he has the mask on he loses control and effectively gets a front seat to the blood drenched autopilot. It’s something that the kind son of a police officer spends the run of the film battling with – is the power of the Rider, and when and on whom to unleash it. Think “Shinji, get in the Eva.” Hongo’s internal struggle to keep the reins in on the Rider is played completely straight, which along with the sibling-esque relationship between him and Ruriko constitute the heart and soul of this story. 

If you’ve seen Anno’s excellent live-action adaptation of Go Nagai’s Cutie Honey you’ve seen how well he can marry this drama with a heavy dose of Tokusatsu camp, and that is on full display here. Around that drama is Anno having a blast dealing out some deliciously deranged S.H.O.C.K.E.R foes who eventually lead up to the heavy of this picture with ample room left for a sequel. One thing I did find was shockingly relevant, is how Anno was wise enough to update the evil computer that heads S.H.O.C.K.E.R at the end of the manga into an AI. One of the more curious additions however to this iteration, is while the wind here is still one of the primary power sources of Anno’s Rider there is also an energy source called “Prana”, which leads down a very Human Instrumentality-esque rabbit hole in the film that necessitates another viewing to completely comprehend. But story-wise the film is so busy with battles and insanity, it’s really impossible to be anything but entertained. 

As a Tokusatsu fan, I may be a bit too in the weeds for this one, but it did not disappoint and was an absolute blast from start to finish. While the frantic pacing might deter some, I would equate it with a current phase MCU origin film today with how it deals with pre-existing characters in universe, while bringing us up to speed on the new Rider. Anno succeeds at making this Rider his own and one we legitimately grow to care about, which is no easy task. My only quip would be, and this is definitely an Anno thing is the exposition dumps and the literal paragraphs of subs that explain the cinematic world and how the mythology operates, that’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s something that works against fully enjoying the visuals of the film out of fear of missing something. All in all, Shin Kamen Rider is a dense love letter to the Tokusatsu icon obviously for fans, by a fan, filled with camp and the kind of spectacle only Anno can deliver.

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