The third entry in the Shin Japan Heroes Universe, Shin Kamen Rider (シン・仮面ライダー), steps away from the kaiju oriented plots of Shin Godzilla and Shin Ultraman to let writer/director Hideaki Anno, the driving force behind the Shin project, reboot a character that dates back to 1971 and who has, over the years appeared in various incarnations spanning live action, anime, and manga forms.
Takeshi Hongo (Sôsuke Ikematsu, Death Note: Light Up the New World, We Are Little Zombies) was a socially inept college student who only cared about his motorcycle until he was kidnapped by S.H.O.C.K.E.R., Sustainable Happiness Organization with Computational Knowledge Embedded Remodeling, and experimented on by Professor Midorikawa, played appropriately enough by Shin’ya Tsukamoto, the director of Tetsuo: The Iron Man and its sequels.
He fused Hongo’s DNA with that of a grasshopper giving him incredible strength, and a suit to let him harness it. That suit also has survival programming that drives him to kill his opponents, something that Hongo isn’t happy about.
But after Professor Midorikawa has a change of heart and, along with his daughter Ruriko (Minami Hamabe, Detective Conan: The Scarlet Bullet, Ajin: Demi-Human), brings him with them when they escape S.H.O.C.K.E.R. he has no choice but to use those powers against the other augmented creations.
Unlike the previous two entries in the franchise, Shin Kamen Rider was based on a character I wasn’t familiar with. I’d heard of him and seen a couple of episodes of one of the many series based on him but that was it. Fortunately for me and those like me, the film explains just about everything the viewer needs to know to understand what’s happening.
Unfortunately, that frequently takes the form of long expository monologues as Ruriko explains things to Hongo. They tended to drag for me, so I can only imagine how they feel to long time Kamen Rider fans. And they do come frequently, Shin Kamen Rider is based on the original season of the show and it feels like several episodes condensed into two hours.
There’s a fight with some augmented opponent, then dialogue explaining things, then the next villain shows up and has to be fought. Then more explanations, with things getting more complicated as the plot progresses, eventually involving government agents, Ruriko’s evil brother Ichiro (Mirai Moriyama, Samurai Marathon, We Couldn’t Become Adults), and even a second Kamen Rider, Hayato Ichimonji (Tasuku Emoto, Re/Member, The Great War of Archimedes).
The plot, however convoluted it may get, isn’t really the main reason to watch Shin Kamen Rider. It’s the wild action and bizarre opponents that include Ruriko’s only friend Hiromi (Nanase Nishino, The Blood of Wolves II, Your Turn to Kill) who has received wasp DNA, and others who have received boosts from bats, scorpions, and, in a two for one special, praying mantis and chameleon DNA.
There are lots of high flying, midair fights, and chases involving Hongo’s equally enhanced motorcycle Cyclone which in one scene follows behind him when he walks like a cowboy’s horse. A particular highlight is a long scene in a tunnel where both Kamen Riders fight a horde of clones of themselves sent to take them down. At one point it’s so dark all you can see are their suits’ glowing eyes.
Don’t let that make you think that Shin Kamen Rider is a Power Rangers type of film. There are similarities, but this is darker and aimed toward an older audience. The early fight scenes where our hero is learning how powerful he is are quite bloody with punches going through bodies and heads exploding in crimson showers. The characters also carry a fair amount of past trauma with them such as Hongo witnessing the death of his policeman father.
But, every time Shin Kamen Rider starts to get too serious, Anno throws another action scene at the viewer and kicks things back into gear. That action is rendered with both practical techniques and some very stylized CGI that at times looks like conventional animation, perhaps in a nod to the franchises’ anime versions.
The result is a film that, despite some pacing issues in the first half, is quite entertaining and has a bit more depth than many films of its kind. It ends with an opening for a sequel but whether that will happen or the Shin Universe finds a fresh subject for its next film remains to be seen.
Shin Kamen Rider screened at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival and is available on Digital Platforms.