Sunday, July 23, 2023

Fantasia ’23: Shin Kamen Rider

When it comes to rebooting established franchises, the Japanese film industry is much smarter than Hollywood. Just look at the “Shins,” or the “Shin Japan Heroes Universe” movies: Shin Godzilla and Shin Ultraman. They are all true to the spirit of the originals, but the effects have been modernized—and pretty much only the effects (although Shin Godzilla also savaged the supposed professionalism of government bureaucrats). Fans of the long-running motorcycle tokusatsu TV series might be surprised by the return to manga level of violence, but they will feel right at home with the rest of Hideaki Anno’s Shin Kamen Rider (or Shin Masked Rider), which screened at the 2023 Fantasia International Film Festival.

Poor innocent biker Takeshi Hongo was kidnapped by SHOCKER (a KAOS or THRUSH-like organization), who turned him into a grasshopper hybrid super-being. Ominously, they intend to use the augmented hybrids (“Augs”) like him to destroy humanity, because that will make Augs like them happy. In the long-run, they also think it is in our own best interest, since we are such a miserable species. Ruriko Midorikawa and her scientist father broke from SHOCKER, taking Hongo with them, so he can fight to save humanity. It is a family affair, since SHOCKER will be led by Ichiro Midorikawa, a butterfly-Aug, once he wakens from his cocoon.

Much to the mild mannered Hongo’s surprise, he can hardly control his killer instincts when he is suited up and using his Prana-fueled powers (prana being the rough equivalent of Chi in the
Shin universe). In contrast, Ruriko Midorikawa is much more calculating and cold-blooded, but her powers are mostly those of the mental kind. She always prepares. Unfortunately, their only allies are the Anti-SHOCKER government agency, who are not particularly trust-worthy.

With all its stunt-driving,
Shin Kamen Rider is sort of like a cross between Ultraman and Fast & Furious. While it is not as strong as the previous Shin films, it at least manages to tell an entirely self-contained story in a smidge over two hours, which is more than Fast X can say for itself.

In terms of effects, the
Shin-inized Kamen Rider represents a major upgrade from the early 1970s cult classic. Sosuke Ikematsu and Minami Hamabe are also very strong as the brooding Hongo and the detached and analytical Midorikawa. Mirai Moriyama is pretty creepy as Ichiro Midorikawa, but the most memorable villain is Spider-Aug, the first that Hongo fights.

If you are not familiar with the chapter and verse of
Kamen Rider lore, aspects of the Shin edition will be a little confusing. There are also a lot of loose ends, like what is the deal with “K,” SHOCKER’s self-directed AI (who functions as a neutral observer, sort of like Marvel’s The Watcher)?

Still, this seems pretty faithful to the spirit of the original, including the introduction of a second Rider (a development that really works like gangbusters for newcomers). In any event, the head-crushing (literally) fight scenes are definitely cool. It might be the lesser of the three
Shin films so far, but it still schools Hollywood in the art and practice of rebooting. Recommended for fans of superhero and biker movies, Shin Kamen Rider screened at this year’s Fantasia and now streams on Prime in the U.S.