Sunday, 6 June 2021

Movie REVIEW: Kamen Rider: The Next

Kamen Rider: The Next

After retelling the origin story of double Riders Takeshi Hongo and Hayato Ichimonji in Kamen Rider: The First, Toei decided to push on with the story of this cinematic reboot - releasing Kamen Rider: The Next in 2007. The film was once again written by Toshiki Inoue, with both Masaya Kikawada and Hassei Takano reprising their roles as Hongo/Rider 1 and Ichimonji/Rider 2 respectively. This time around though the film was directed by Ryuta Tasaki, a regular to the world of tokusatsu who continues to direct episodes of both Kamen Rider and Super Sentai to this day. As well as continuing the story of the double Riders, The Next also brings Shiro Kazami aka Kamen Rider V3 into the mix - portrayed by actor Kazuki Kato (Daisuke Kazama/Kamen Rider Drake in Kamen Rider Kabuto, as well as Blue in the Sentai parody series Kanpai Senshi After V).

Takeshi HongoThe ghost of Chiharu

It's been two years since Takeshi Hongo and Hayato Ichimonji betrayed Shocker and fought their battle against the evil terrorist organisation. Hongo is now living quietly as a high school teacher, unaware of Ichimonji's whereabouts. A series of strange and gruesome murders has begun to occur across Japan, all connected to the song "Platinum Smile" by pop idol Chiharu. When Hongo's student and Chiharu's friend Kotomi beings to investigate, they become entangled in a mystery revealing both imposter Chiharus and the involvement of Shocker.

Their investigation leads them to Chiharu's brother Shiro Kazami, the former president of an IT enterprise who has been remodelled by Shocker into their latest cyborg - "Hopper Version 3". After battling against both traitorous Kamen Riders, Kazami also begins to defy Shocker as too seeks the truth of what has happened to his beloved sister.

Hayato IchimonjiShiro Kazami

If there's one thing that can definitely be taken away from both The First and The Next, it's that there was an obvious drive to take the Kamen Rider formula and apply it to different genres (presumably to make it appeal to a wider cinema audience). Whereas The First took the origin of the original Riders and effectively turned it into a romance story, The Next goes in with a straight J-Horror angle. The big difference between the two films though is how it handled these genre shifts. Although The First had very strong romantic overtones (to the point where the female lead often felt like the central character), the story of the Kamen Riders and the core beats of their origin story never got lost in there. The film might have come out unbalanced, but the idea was clear enough to see exactly what Inoue was going for. Kamen Rider: The Next however is the complete opposite. The J-Horror aspect isn't the B-plot of this film, if anything it's the core foundations that the Kamen Rider elements have then been hastily stuck onto. Shocker's big scheme feels periphery to the Platinum Smile mystery, the link between the two tenuous enough that the two stories could easily exist without the other.

It's because of this that The Next also fails to feel like a satisfying sequel to the previous film. The opening captions explain that two years have passed since the events of The First, but it doesn't feel like very much has gone on since then. Asuka is completely absent from the film, so any connection to the romance plot to the previous one is immediately lost. There's no real sense of whether the double Riders have continued their fight against Shocker or gone into hiding either - in fact The Next feels rather conflicted about it. Hongo sinking back into an ordinary life and the apparent disappearance of Ichimonji seem to suggest the latter, but the battered redesigns of the Rider suits suggest years of fighting. It's entirely possible that the pair have been on the run after being brandished traitors by Shocker, but there isn't anything concrete to suggest it. Hongo even refers to Ichimonji as his "best friend" during the film, which comes off as incredibly strange since the pair barely had a relationship in The First other than both being turned into cyborgs and fighting over the same girl. 

In a remake of a beloved franchise it should be expected that there will be some changes made to the characters along the way to make them fit the new story, however it should be important that said characters at least retain the essence of their original counterparts. It's very hard to see any semblance of the classic Ishinomori heroes in The Next. As established in the previous film this is a VERY different Takeshi Hongo - a relatively subdued character whose fight against Shocker seems to be a much more personal affair. His story in The Next is more about helping Kotomi find Chiharu than it is about protecting the planet - it's only when these two things overlap does he begin to feel more like the hero we're more familiar with. Again Inoue plays this version of Hongo with a duality more akin to Western superheroes - a bumbling human identity that hides a headstrong masked hero. Only here there's no sense that Hongo's personality is any sort of act, and he's just a normal guy who's would up with a cyborg body.

A new look Rider 1Kotomi

Meanwhile as was before, Hayato Ichimonji continues to be the most engaging character in this remake universe - only this time he's given far less screen time to work with. Slowly dying from his body's rejection of his cybernetic enhancements (previously supplemented by regular transfusions from Shocker), Ichimonji has spiralled into a life of alcohol and hostess clubs. When he finally decides to take the mantle of Kamen Rider once more, it's one last chance to do the right thing and die with no regrets. A brilliant storyline for a movie (and one that's really worked to completion in the director's cut) that's barely told at all. Ichimonji is another character that has both his powers and heroism thrust upon him, but the aloof persona he puts on to hide his many insecurities make him a considerably more interesting character than Hongo. 

Finally we come to Shiro Kazami. With Destron completely absent from the world of The Next, V3's origin has changed considerably in order to make it work with the rest of the story. President of a flourishing IT company, Kazami was chosen to become Shocker's latest operative after both he and his secretary were the only survivors of an experiment attempting to augment humans using nanomachine technology. Arrogant to the core, he believes that Shocker freed him from the shackles of normal life and in bringing down the "obsolete" Kamen Riders, he will truly prove his superiority. The only thing that truly matters to him other than that is his sister Chiharu, and ultimately that's his only motivation in choosing to defy Shocker. Kato does his best with the material to make this version of Kazami into a somewhat engaging (if largely unlikeable) character, but again there's barely a trace of hero in there. Maybe that's supposed to be charm of the reboot Riders - a more grounded take of ordinary people thrust into an extraordinary situation. But in doing so it really does lose those core Kamen Rider values that made it so special in the first place. As a side note, it's really baffling how Shocker keep creating these cyborgs that retain some degree of free will and then act surprised when they end up betraying them.

ChiharuKamen Rider V3

Replacing Asuka as the heroine for the film is Kotomi, shifting from a romantic relationship to a teacher/student one. Though neither Kotomi are Hongo are particularly standout characters, there is a clear evolution to their relationship over the course of the film that plays out nicely. Kotomi is the driving force for everything in the movie - investigating the Chiharu mystery and leading Hongo to both Shocker and V3. Given just how many ties there are to the Chibaru storyline in The Next, it's pretty amazing just how poorly defined it is. While the core of the story itself is a relatively straightforward J-Horror murder mystery that probably would have gone unnoticed if it were a completely separate film, important elements like just how it all ties in to Shocker's plan are glossed over. As the identity of the "ghost" is revealed and Chiharu's backstory is properly explained, the film struggles to decide whether it wants to present this information in a completely supernatural fashion or if it wants to stay with the confines of the logic it's previously set up.

On top of all this there's just an unpleasant need for grittiness in Kamen Rider: The Next. A more grounded take on the franchise is one thing, but The Next also tries to play up a more "adult" nature in the most rudimentary way possible. Random bits of nudity, a more gratuitous level of violence - these are all things that aren't inherently bad but also feel completely out of place when they aren't serving any real purpose. One could argue that the violence does help the film lean into the J-Horror aspect a lot more, but it also in turns pulls it out of the Kamen Rider one all the more. Even the obvious commentary about how Japan's idol industry exploits and destroys its talent is lost is overlooked in all of this. There's just such a horrible disconnect between everything going on in Kamen Rider: The Next that everything feels completely isolated from each other, to the point where you genuinely have to wonder if Inoue was writing a completely different film before he hastily threw in some Rider elements and called it a day.

Chiharu stalks KotomiThe Shocker Riders

If there's one element of Kamen Rider: The Next that can be praised though, it's that the action sequences are certainly a step above the ones seen in The First. That weight the fight scenes were given to illustrate the Riders' sheer power has been increased tenfold, and the patience of sitting through all the tedious 'story' is somewhat rewarded with some memorable action sequences. The Next really emphasises its motorcycle stunt sequences, which is again incredibly refreshing for a franchise that has completely lost its way on this over the years despite being called Kamen RIDER. From V3 and a group of Shocker Riders chasing Rider 1 down on the open road to a climactic mansion fight where the three renegade Riders are brought together for the first time, the action really is the one redeeming feature of the film. Arguably not to the point where it salvages the rest of the film or it that much more impressive that what the series (or at least its annual movie outings) has to offer, but it's reassuring to know that even when it's at its worst Kamen Rider still has something to offer.

On top of that, even though they're something that could (and honestly should) be enjoyed out of the context of the film the costume designs of The First/Next universe are still top notch. Both returning Rider take on darker colour schemes (Rider 1's directly referencing the "Sakurajima" suit of the original show) which don't quite hit the same heights of The First as far as distinguishing the two go, but the battered look they've been given is a nice addition that hints toward a far more interesting story. The new look V3 is a solid addition to the group, similarly taking the classic suit and modernising it with more angular shapes and a metallic colour scheme. Even the Shocker Riders, underplayed in the movie as they are, look great with their bronze armouring. The Next continues the theme of bringing the monsters more in line with the look of the Riders themselves, however they also feature more organic elements that gel quite as well with the more grounded aesthetic. Whereas The First's Spider Man was some industrial fetish nightmare, The Next's Scissors Jaguar skirts the line between edgy and campy. 

Scissors JaguarRider 2 rides on

While The First felt like a film with a reasonably good idea that failed to execute it, Kamen Rider: The Next is just straight up bad. It's a horrid mess of a film that stumbles around with subplots and genre play so much that it completely loses its identity, and reimagines beloved Kamen Rider characters that have barely any semblance of their original selves. Yes the suits look great and there are some solid moments of action in here, but neither are worth sitting through this 100 minute running time. Do yourselves a favour - watch the original Kamen Rider, watch Kamen Rider V3, or simply just watch anything else this 50 year franchise has to offer and come back to this film when you've exhausted every other option and simply want to get it over with for completism. 

5 comments:

M said...

If some changes were made in the plot of the movie, this could easily have been a stand-alone episode of a Garo show.

Alex said...

I could totally see that. Would work a hell of a lot better there than it did here!

Lucas said...

Is this the first Japanese Tokusatsu to get an "Avoid" rating?

Alex said...

Haha, yes it is. Hopefully it'll be the only one too!

Neko-Nyan said...

Honestly, if you cut the film to its action scenes, it's pretty good, the choreography is quite nice. But other than that, holy fuck is this a bad flick