The fourth entry in the “Shin” Universe, “Shin Kamen Rider” explores the battle of hope against nihilism within a tokusatsu package. [Fantasia International Film Festival]

Released in March earlier this year in Japan, Shin Kamen Rider (a.k.a. Shin Masked Rider) is the fourth film in the Shin series developed by writer/director Hideaki Anno and others in order to make modern reimaginings of popular Japanese tokusatsu stories, thus far including Godzilla (2016’s Shin Godzilla), the world of Evangelion (2021’s Evangelion: 3.0+1.0 Thrice Upon a Time), and Ultraman (2022’s Shin Ultraman). With special screenings taking place around the world since its release, Shin Kamen Rider took part in Fantasia International Film Festival 2023 as a special event/advanced screening. Like the other films in the Shin series, Kamen Rider is not connected to the other films, skipping over developing a shared universe and focusing on telling strong and engaging stories. In fact, Anno’s script for Kamen Rider throws audiences right into the action, rarely letting off the accelerator except for short breaks to allow for interpersonal growth before going all-in again. It’s to be expected from the motorcycle-riding hero that his narrative might travel at break-neck speeds, but it does so without diminishing the emotional heft that makes the ride worth it.


L-R: Sôsuke Ikematsu as Takeshi Hongo and Minami Hamabe as Ruriko Midorikawa in SHIN KAMEN RIDER. Photo courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival.

Former student Hongo Takeshi (Sôsuke Ikematsu) finds himself being pursued by unknown individuals as the daughter of his old professor, Ruriko (Minami Hamabe), grips him tightly as his motorcycle hurtles down the road in an attempt to evade their attackers. Once stopped and cornered, Hongo realizes that his strength and speed are enhanced and is able to dispatch their assailants with ease. Soon, he’s tasked with helping Ruriko, who dubs him “Masked Rider,” to take down the forces who made him this way, an organization known as SHOCKER, who are steps away from enacting a deadly plan on humanity. With just the two of them as the final line of defense, can Ruriko and Hongo get the job done or will the forces of SHOCKER prevail?


Minami Hamabe as Ruriko Midorikawa in SHIN KAMEN RIDER. Photo courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival.

Of the four Shin films, the only one that this reviewer hasn’t seen is Thrice Upon a Time. While the films aren’t connected, a certain amount of comparison is bound to happen and Godzilla remains the favorite of the bunch. It’s an incisive and hilarious exploration of the slowness in which the structure of modern bureaucracy functions in the face of surprising or unanticipated problems. It does get dark and serious in the final act, but it never loses its bite. Ultraman radiates positivity as it looks at humanity from an outsider’s perspective, hindered mostly by the narrative execution which feels too often repetitive as though several episodes (akin to the source material) were stacked together rather than constructed in one flowing story. Kamen Rider lies in the middle of the two, opening in media res and throttling the gas from there, forcing the audience to hold on as details emerge, and either we go with it and enjoy ourselves or fight it and get lost. If you go with it, accepting the high-concept without necessarily having to *understand* the mechanics, you’ll have a much more pleasurable ride. In short, Hongo discovers that he’s been altered on a physical and chemical-level, now a human that’s been crossed with a grasshopper, an augmented humanoid that can turn a human face to paste with one punch and move faster than a normal human can process. He no longer needs to eat in order to fuel himself and he is considered the last of his former professor’s creations. Got it? Then you’re ready to move on to the meat of things.

SHOCKER’s plan is to remove all sadness from humanity and their perspective of that mission is one of coldness and control with Hongo selected to be the first line of defense against their plan. In this way, born out of pain and transformation, Kamen Rider explores the regaining of humanity through sacrifice, trust, and duty. So while audiences are treated to some extraordinary tokusatsu action with realistically depicted violence, rather than a sense of dread or nihilism, Kamen Rider leaves one feeling optimistic and relieved, even when things don’t go as planned (from the character’s perspective). Kamen Rider is absent the wholesome naïveté that pervades Ultraman, opting to confront the looming danger from SHOCKER with astonishing realism despite the heightened circumstances. Punches lead to crumpled flesh, kicks break bones, and bullets and blades enable blood to flow. There’s very little visible violent consequence in the other two Shin films, but it’s a central feature here, selected to make it plain that the wild machinations of science fiction imagination that create spider, bat, scorpion, and other augmented humans may look silly on the outside, created through some incredible costume and makeup work, result in profound impact. Then there’s the philosophical aspects which challenge Hongo. He possesses a strong desire to protect others, but is that sense of purpose enough to stop SHOCKER along Ruriko? At what point is that sense of purpose enough against such augmented beings? Fascinatingly, Anno uses the built-in lore of the original series to demonstrate that as much as sadness and nihilism can permeate, so can optimism, hope, and individuality be a salve and recruitment device. Loss does not equate defeat as long as the baton of duty is passed. Don’t worry, if the film sounds too heady for you, there’s plenty of incredible action to keep you interested.

The execution of the stunts is a mixture of mind-blowing (positive) and WTF (negative). On the one hand, it follows in the tokusatsu tradition in which Hongo and his opponents jump into the air and then land, the camera capturing them from below in both instances. Though it’s spot-on in mimicking the vibe of the source material and its birth era, there’s a great deal of repetition that undercuts the uniqueness of each engagement. The fights also use a great deal of fast cuts, none of which convey a sense of masking an inability on the part of the stuntpeople or actors to make things believable, but to create a sense of chaos. The trick becomes that it’s so frequent that actually following the action at times, especially when used in combination with shakey-cam work, that all the audience has to go on is the idea of the conflict versus what’s actually happening. On the flip side, each fight Hongo gets into in order to reduce SHOCKER’s forces is designed to create unique challenges and engagements, resulting in some clever setups that make up for a general sense of uniformity. Where the structure of repeated confrontations in Ultraman felt disconnected from each other yet the same (even if resolved differently), with Kamen Rider, each one feels like the clearing of a miniboss on the path toward the final fight of the film. In this way, there’s a greater sense of meaning to the whole of Kamen Rider, making each conflict we observe more satisfying than the last.


Tasuku Emoto as Hayato Ichimonji in SHIN KAMEN RIDER. Photo courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival.

What’s particularly fascinating about Kamen Rider compared to the other two films is that, while it tells a succinct and clear story, it doesn’t wrap itself up as cleanly. Meaning, though the story Anno crafts is complete within the runtime, there’s a sense that the battle is only beginning. Other superhero films that have the central character battle a series of underlings in route to battle the head bad guy often reach its climax with said battle. In films that don’t, such as the recent Alita: Battle Angel (2019), a sense that the narrative is cut short before reaching its promise manifests. Kamen Rider doesn’t possess that feeling in the slightest; rather, it flows directly in the themes of the film in which hope battles nihilism, a potentially never-ending struggle, which means that the Rider will always be on the move, too. Unless things have changed, there’s been no discussion of additional films to follow any of the Shin films or to connect them, which may frustrate some fans of Kamen Rider. For my money, this ending is the right one as it incorporates a sense of optimism that bleeds into the audience, giving the film a little NOS kick as the credits roll.


Sôsuke Ikematsu as Takeshi Hongo in SHIN KAMEN RIDER. Photo courtesy of Fantasia International Film Festival.

Between the compelling philosophical ideas that course through the film, its willingness to shed blood to make a point about barbarism/lack of humanity, and the costume design, Shin Kamen Rider is easily the second-best of the three live-action Shin films. Its narrative is interesting, the performances are captivating, and everything feels like it’s building to something. If not for the camera work (purposeful or not) and the requirement to just roll with it at times, Kamen Rider holds the potential to be as strong as Shin Godzilla (easily the best of the three). But, in the end, the audience wins no matter what because Anno’s Shin Kamen Rider feels like a breath of fresh air amid a sea of uninspired comic book and television cinematic adaptations. From the ideas Anno explores to the cinematography, everything within Kamen Rider possess weight, which leads to gravitas. I would rather see a million more reality-based, on-location shot, CG-used sparingly films than all the ones that rely solely on CG artists or The Volume in order to create their worlds. Action and drama should hold consequence and Anno made sure that Shin Kamen Rider is filled with it from the edge of one frame to another.

Screening during Fantasia International Film Festival 2023.

Available on Prime Video in the U.S. beginning July 21st, 2023.

For more information, head either to the official Fantasia 2023 webpage or the Shin Kamen Rider website.

Final Score: 4 out of 5.

This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.

Categories: In Theaters, Reviews

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