Fantasia Festival 2023 review: ‘Shin Kamen Rider’ is unabashed tokusatsu mayhem

‘Shin Kamen Rider’ is the third live-action installment in ‘Neon Genesis Evangelion’ creator Hideaki Anno’s series of cinematic reboots of classic Japanese franchises, which kicked off back in 2016 with the excellent ‘Shin Godzilla’. It’s a bold ongoing project, but Anno and long-time collaborator Shinji Higuchi have proven their sincere reverence for those kaiju and tokusatsu properties – plus the creative spark to take them in fresh and exciting new directions.

With Higuchi otherwise occupied after co-writing and directing last year’s ’Shin Ultraman’, Anno is the primary creative shot-caller on this adaptation of the classic manga and television series ‘Kamen Rider’. The titular hero is Takeshi Hongo, a young man unexpectedly thrust into a war against SHOCKER: a shadowy organization run by a misguided artificial intelligence responsible for the creation of super-powered human-animal hybrids.

Hongo is transformed into the legendary Kamen Rider in order to take on SHOCKER, imbuing him with the powers of the grasshopper: enhanced strength, speed, and an incredibly cool matching costume and motorcycle. You’ll have a sense of whether this is the kind of movie for you within the opening ten minutes, in which Hongo demonstrates his new abilities by fighting off agents of SHOCKER, delivering powerful blows that reduce their heads to scarlet mess. 

It’s simultaneously absurd and sincere in its efforts, leaning into the charming production values of the original television series and finding new angles on existing ideas. The film’s pacing does suffer from having to condense decades’ worth of episodic story-telling into the constraints of a single feature film, but that frantic pace and maximalism is also one of its inherent strengths.

Like ‘Shin Godzilla’ and ‘Shin Ultraman’ before it, ‘Shin Kamen Rider’ is as much a love letter to its source material as it is an attempt to re-contextualise that love for a more modern audience – without the cynicism or self-consciousness that plagues similar efforts from Hollywood studios. Issues of pacing or occasional questionable production choices (a few too many iPhone shots, perhaps) are entirely forgivable when a movie has this much panache flowing through its veins.

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