Monday 26 May 2014

Movie REVIEW: Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue

Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue

Though some fans out there may try to deny it, Kamen Rider is a franchise aimed predominantly at children. Sure the tone is a little darker, making its demographic a little higher than Super Sentai, but it's still very much a family orientated atmosphere that has kids as its target audience. However to celebrate Kamen Rider's 20th anniversary, Toei looked at the now grown-up fans of the original series and reimagined the basics behind the character in a gruesome setting. Thus, Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue was born. A V-cinema release in 1992, Shin also features a cameo appearance from the franchise's original creator Shotaro Ishinomori.

The bland hero and his forgettable girlfriend
Emotion all around.

Motorcycle racer Shin Kazamatsuri volunteers as a test subject for his father's scientific research, which aims to cure fatal diseases like cancer and AIDS by augmenting the human body on a genetic level. When Shin starts having nightmares of gruesome murders that have happened recently, he seeks to uncover the truth behind his father's experiments.Not only does he discover that the project is being funded by a mysterious organisation looking to create cyborg soldiers, but he also finds out that his father's partner Doctor Onizuka had his own agenda - creating a new civilization by fusing human DNA with that of grasshoppers.

Realising he has been a part of Onizuka's twisted experiments, Shin believes him to be then one to have committed the murders. But when he gets caught in the crossfire between the Organisation's cyborg solider and the CIA, he discovers Onizuka also performed the same experiment on himself. As he learns more about his monstrous new abilities, Shin digs deeper and deeper into the mystery of the Organisation while he tries to protect both him and his loved ones.

Kamen Rider Shin in all his monstrous glory
Insect motif on a whole new level

Recreating something in a "dark and gritty" format is not as simple as some filmmakers would like to believe it is, with many projects believing the simple answer to doing that is just to throw in a load of death, gore and nudity. This was the 90s, and the writers of Shin Kamen Rider obviously thought doing this would help their case as well. Within the first five minutes the film has torn its way through four rather grizzly deaths, and there's plenty of blood splattering and a sprinkle of nudity to come. While the former is arguably a vital part in conveying Shin's ferociousness (he is a monster after all), the latter doesn't serve to add anything more than a second's titillation and is there just because it can be there. Such things may be staples of the J-horror genre, but that doesn't mean they feel any less juvenile.

Cyborg Level 2 is 100% 90s
Cyberdyne get buff

Shin Kamen Rider only has 90 minutes to tell its story, so getting off to a slow and frustrating start is not the best choice the writers could have made. Kamen Rider Shin/Cyborg Level 3 doesn't show up at all outside of a few brief glimpses, which actually works quite well to build up suspense for the first big transformation. What absolutely kills it however is how unbelievably dull the plot is until then. Shin just runs from place to place asking questions he only gets vague answers to, while the rest of the cast just casually drop "the Organisation" into conversation repeatedly. The characters barely have any sort of introduction, barely have a drop of personality between them and are completely forgettable. The only real positive is how shrouded in mystery "the Organisation" are, staying completely in the shadows rather than turning out to be a campy group of super villains bent on world domination. Onizuka having is own agenda also adds a nice extra dynamic to things, throwing a spanner in the villains' works and not just making the film a straight retread of the original Kamen Rider origin.

One of Shin's most talked about scenes
Now that's how you get ahead in life

It isn't a total loss though - the use of practical effects has always been one of tokusatsu's most appealing factors, and considering its increasing use of CGI these days its great to go back and see how well it used to be done. The Kamen Rider Shin suit isn't quite like anything else in the franchise (both before and after) - a grotesque human/grasshopper hybrid covered in scaly detail. This is the kind of thing you can appreciate from just pictures or figures, but in motion the effort that went into making it something special really comes out. Shin's first transformation sequence is a highlight that could easily be watched again and again, cultivating in a monster with moving eyes, pulsating body parts and splitting mandibles. Shin's costume, along with the equally grotesque Cyborg Level 2, are testaments to just how great the costume/effects department down at Toei can really be when they put their minds to it.

That said, not every aspect of the film is impressive visually and there are a few little hiccups. Shin's brutal fighting style is captured with typical amounts of obviously fake blood spraying everywhere, cheapening the experience a little bit. This is later following by the appearance of a human/grasshopper embryo, which as you can see by the included picture is about as laughable as it gets.

This is a rather odd moment
No words.

Once past the initial transformation halfway in the story of Shin admittedly does pick up as it's now propped up by some actual action sequences, but it's ultimate downfall is given away right in the title of the film. Having the word "Prologue" in the title suggests that there will be more to come after it, but this was never to be and Shin ends with a hell of a lot unexplained and unresolved. When counting up the flaws it's no surprise that the film bombed and a follow-up was never made, but the story could have easily been told with better resolution even if "the Organisation" are still very much live and kicking at the end.

Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue was a film intended for fans who had grown up with the original Kamen Rider, but if anything it shows the makers still have a bit of growing up to do themselves. A slow, bone-crushingly dull first half gives way to a better second that still has its own wealth of problems. Fans of the franchise should certainly check this one-off entry out simply to see Kamen Rider practical effects at their very finest, but other than that all Shin really proves is that dark and gritty does not make a production "adult".

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