After spending a few nights with a variety of Frankenstein monsters my mind wandered off to another type of man made creature…KAMEN RIDER. I had not watched 2005s KAMEN RIDER – THE FIRST film for a number of reasons. I love Tokusatsu shows and I would go as far as to say that I enjoy KR more than Ultraman style shows. The 70s series’ featured amazing fighting action, motorcycle stunts, outrageous creatures and the baddest bug on a bike I’ve ever seen. Sadly, I have only seen a few dozen of the original episodes without subtitles, but I will cop to watching Kamen Rider V3 at least twice all the way through with some ‘Chinglish‘ sub assistance. The Kamen Rider shows continue on in Japan and I do watch them (I’m about a dozen episodes in to DECADE right now, and there is a newer one after that!), but the early 70s Toei action episodes are a real sacred cow. Could the movie live up to those shows. Of course not, but it could be fun.
Instead of sequelizing the original shows, which would be quite difficult, this retelling does a good job of retooling and simplifying a lot of details. Young Takeshi Hongo is kidnapped by the redesigned but classic Spider character from SHOCKER and undergoes the hideous cybernetic reconstruction process that transforms him in to “Hopper”-an agent for the nefarious group. Spurned on by a snowflake(!), Hongo rejects his SHOCKER training and escapes. Of course, this happens after his first mission is carried out and he witnesses Spider killing some normal people that had seen the SHOCKER agents. Lucky for the plot, Hongo has his big personality recall in time to keep a young lady reporter named Asuka alive. She follows him, and becomes the love interest for our dashing, yet troubled, cybernetic hero.
But SHOCKER won’t stop coming for Hongo-so they gather another subject for Kamenization!
This one is a little meaner, a bit cockier and just so happens to eventually find himself wanting Asuka as well. A love triangle of Bugs n’ Babes! Unfortunately for Asuka, Rider 2 is her dead fiance…sort of. Alright, that bit was confusing, but who cares? Also on the downside for Rider 2 is that he does not seem to be as perfect as Hongo-he needs transfusions to survive and is therefore tied to SHOCKER! He’s pissed. The Riders clash in a great bit of kung fu choreography and things start to heat up. Of course, we all know they will be on the same side shortly…
The ending is a great assault on SHOCKER that features loads of nifty Kamen Riding action, a few tributes to the original series with the RIDAH…KICK and riffs on the original HENSHIN poses popping through. A strange subplot about terminally ill patients and the inevitable love story / triangle are both dealt with before that showdown-which does actually drag the movie down quite a bit. But, patience is a virtue and the film makers redeem themselves with one of my favorite action sequences from anything called Kamen Rider made in the last 10 years.
Kamen Rider- The First is not perfect, but it is a nice re-interpretation of a character that has been mired down in multiple Rider armies, card game weapon selections and other things that were once the dominion of Sentai shows. The fight scenes play more like high speed kung fu movie antics than the hard punching karate stylings of the original Toei shows, but for the modern audience I think that is perfectly acceptable. The pacing has some ups and downs as well, but once more this is for the current crop of viewers as well as trying to round up what once was a series of 20 minute set pieces in to a cohesive whole. The entire film feels like a step towards bringing the old to the new, and that is a good thing. I follow a lot of the new shows via fansub trackers and many dismiss the originals (and other classics such as Iron King) as “cheese”-but this may have worked to bring some of the younger fans back to the characters their parents most likely watched. In the age of remakes, this one is quite serviceable. I had to laugh as Da Pump provided the theme which sampled the original track in a fairly interesting way. You can Henshin the formula all over the place, but at the end of the day, is KAMEN RIDER THE FIRST really like the first Kamen Rider?
Most important to me was the look of the characters. The villains of SHOCKER have been overhauled extensively, looking much like the sentai styled characters of Keita Amemiya of Zeiram series fame. Thankfully the last thing we hear post credits is a classic “MEEP” of the henchmen, because these are not recognizable as SHOCKER fist fodder. Spider and Bat fare much better, I thought they were both nice updates. But the big one…The Kamen Riders really work perfectly. They have the scarves, the helmets and all the gear I love-updated with lots of bits of articulation that don’t hinder the overall design. After seeing the horrors of the upcoming adaptation of THE PHANTOM for SyFy-this is even more incredible. I’m a big kid when it comes to these characters, I have little dolls and big ones…I won’t even call them action figures! And now I want a set of THE FIRST ones as well. It rocks.
And speaking of things that are great, a welcome return of cool motorcycle action is heralded by an appearance by the Tobei Tachibana character-a welcome staple from many of the early series, including Amazon! The CYCLONE is in full effect and director Takao Nagaishi (an assistant director on the original series) handles these scenes with great gusto. This is just the kind of fun that first drew me to Tokusatsu shows!
Something old meets new technology without being overwhelmed and demolished….KAMEN RIDER – THE FIRST is a sharp blast of nostalgia for anyone that ever wondered how the Rider was going to PUNCH or KICK his way out of trouble in every episode. You can find newer shows with ease, but if you want to take a look at the original Rider, this is a good way to do it. Just be sure to enjoy some vintage Kamen Rider afterwards…