Director: Hideaki Anno
Notable Cast: Sosuke Ikematsu, Minami Hamabe, Tasuku
Emoto, Shinya Tsukamoto, Toru Tezuka, Suzuki Matsuo, Nanase Nishino, Mirai
Moriyama, Masami Nagasawa, Nao Omori, Takumi Saitoh, Kanata Hongo, Tori
Hideaki Anno’s “shin universe” continues to be one of the
most fascinating series in cinema. Shin Godzilla was a distinctively
Japanese recreation of the iconic kaiju that works as a perfect counterweight
to the American Monsterverse series and Shin Ultraman (released
in the US earlier this year) was a love letter to the monster-fighting hero
that weirdly managed to pack in some thematic heft while balancing silly
monster fights with existential questions.
For his third film in this universe, Anno tackles another
tokusatsu legend by bringing a “new” version of Kamen Rider to the
silver screen. Naturally titled Shin Kamen Rider, this film serves -
like the other two Shin films - as both a reboot and a love letter to
the character's previous incarnations. Although both Shin Godzilla and Shin
Ultraman managed to find a better balance in their respective reinventions,
it’s hard not to love what this is pulling off here too.
Shin Kamen Rider is outlandishly silly and takes each
level of craziness with a stone face while leaning into the aesthetic of the
original series with a modern CGI element. It is the best kind of insane, even
when it leaves its audience feeling like they have to sprint to keep up.
For those perhaps unfamiliar with the Kamen Rider
mythos, don’t worry. Shin Kamen Rider serves as an origin story for the
masked cyclist. Kind of. The first half of this film almost feels like a series
of vignettes where the audience is essentially thrown on the back of Kamen
Rider’s bike, named Cyclone for those curious, as he speeds into the action and
faces off against a series of animal-themed supervillains. The curious aspect
of that approach is that our surrogate for the audience, the gateway to
understanding this world of evil organizations and insect/human super hybrids,
is our lead character Hongo.
Now, I’m sure you’re thinking, “Duh, Matt. Most movies that
work as an origin story use the hero as the way into the world.” For sure, they
do. Shin Kamen Rider provides us with Hongo, played with a kind of
distinct sadness by Sosuke Ikematsu, and he has no idea about who he is or what
the hell is going on - and he’s ALREADY Kamen Rider. Thus, we’ve given an
entire world’s worth of exposition from Ruriko (Minami Hamabe) and her
scientist father played by the iconic director/actor Shinya Tsukamoto while the
film immediately leaps into action.
And boy howdy is this film full of exposition throughout.
Most of the dialogue is spent explaining the various silly sciences behind its
science fiction creation of superheroes and supervillains or ruminating on
happiness. The evil organization that makes these animal-human hybrids is known
as S.H.O.C.K.E.R. which stands for Sustainable Happiness Organization with
Computational Knowledge Embedded Remodeling. Its themes around finding
happiness seem loftier in theming on paper than they are able to pull off in
the film itself. Mad respect to Anno and company though, they are trying like
hell to make the depth of the film’s philosophies work, but it’s not nearly as
effective as the other Shin films.
The film’s narrative and character arcs get better as it
unfolds, particularly when it adds a more cohesive plot by revealing the big
bad Butterfly Aug and his Kamen Rider doppelganger Ichimonji. Still, it’s a lot
to consume and if you’re not ready to put on your grasshopper bike helmet and
slam into top gear, then this film is going to leave you behind.
Yet, despite the speed bumps that Shin Kamen Rider
must endure in its pacing and narrative cohesion, it’s hard not to love the charm-soaked
insanity that is erupting from the screen. The combination of practical effects
and CGI is highly stylized and fun, the performances are blissfully
over-the-top in so many ways, and Anno knows how to shoot some pulse-pounding
action sequences. In particular, the entire final act is some impeccably
executed and visually stunning action. It’s silly, like a massive biker gang of
Kamen Rider doppelgangers zooming through an almost pitch-black tunnel, but
it’s so entertaining that it’s easy to forgive the film it’s rocky
Like Shin Ultraman, Shin Kamen Rider is a
rather intriguing origin story for modernizing the classic Japanese hero and
now that they’ve established the world, I’m excited to see where they go from
here. As is, this film does have significant charm throughout, from its
outlandish action to its massive performances and it allows it to overcome most
of its bobbled structure and narrative loop-de-loops. Shin Kamen Rider
is not a perfect film, but it definitely leaps for the rafters.