Wednesday 14 September 2016

Movie REVIEW: Kamen Rider 1

Kamen Rider 1

With Super Sentai and Kamen Rider celebrating their 40th and 45th anniversaries this year, Toei have dubbed 2016 as “Super Hero Year” with very good reason. But while the former franchise might seem like it’s been slacking a bit on the celebration front, the same can’t be said for Kamen Rider. In addition to the Amazon Prime exclusive Kamen Rider Amazons series, a legendary hero has also made his return to the fold. Kamen Rider 1 sees Hiroshi Fujioka reprise his role as Takeshi Hongo/Kamen Rider 1, crossing over with the cast of Kamen Rider Ghost in a feature-length celebration. Fujioka himself was actively involved in the development of the film, writing it alongside prolific tokusatsu veteran Toshiki Inoue. While both Rider 1 and Fujioka have made various reappearances over the years, this film sees him once again in the leading role – complete with a brand new look to go with it.

Takeshi Hongo, the first ever Kamen Rider, has spent years travelling the world battling the forces of evil. However when the evil organisation Shocker target Mayu Tachibana, granddaughter of Hongo’s friend and Rider mentor Tobei Tachibana, he returns to Japan once more. Also caught up in the fight against Shocker is Takeru Tenkujii, Kamen Rider Ghost, and his friends.

But Shocker isn’t the only evil they have to worry about, as a new faction rises to make its own bid for power – Nova Shocker! As the two evil organisations battle both the Riders and each other for Mayu and the power held within her, Hongo is faced with the option of hanging up the mask to live a peaceful life with Mayu. With the years of fighting evil finally taking their toll on the great hero, could this be Kamen Rider 1’s final battle?

Takeshi Hongo
The Legend

Forget the woefully out of character interpretation brought back for 2014’s Heisei Rider vs. Showa Rider: Kamen Rider Taisen, this is truly the return of Takeshi Hongo. This is a man who’s spent the last 45 years travelling the world and fighting evil, fight alongside and losing comrades along the way. He carries himself with a gruff hardened exterior, but behind all the fighting and cybernetics lies a man who’s clearly grown tired of it all and longs for a normal life. Hiroshi Fujioka manages to convey all this in just his stance and facial expressions, but through his dialogue he’s also able to create this commanding presence which at the same time feels like the return of an old friend. The introduction of Mayu also gives Hongo this new grandfatherly edge, and the scenes in which he bonds with her and does things his life never usually permits him are some of the most touching that the film has to offer. Although the fake out of his death is all too predictable (as if they’d let Takeshi Hongo die) the emotion leading up to that point is all too real, as the years of fighting visibly take their toll on the great hero.

Hongo & Mayu
Grandpa Hongo

Although the film is undoubtedly Hongo’s story he isn’t alone, and in Kamen Rider 1 he finds new comrades in the cast of Kamen Rider Ghost – the currently airing show at the time of the film’s release. Kamen Rider Ghost might not be many people’s favourite series, but when freed from the murkiness of their own story there’s a lot to like about the cast here. Takeru’s youth and cheery optimism make the perfect foil to the wizened Hongo, with the two developing a strong teacher/protégé dynamic throughout the course of the film. It’s clear that Hongo sees a lot of himself in Takeru, both in the way he values life and the help he receives along the way from his comrades. As such Akari and Onari are crucial even when just sitting comfortably in their support roles, with Onari’s over the top comedy appropriately restrained. That isn’t to say Kamen Rider 1 isn’t without laughs – the Ghost cast provide a much needed comedic balance to the film, especially in the earlier moments as Takeru and Akari infiltrate a high school to get closer to Mayu. Oh and Makoto is there too – but less as a character and more to bolster to the Rider ranks and have some to fight while Takeru and Hongo are enjoying the more emotional scenes. True to his appearance in his own show then.

Nova Shocker
Out with the old, in with the new

Of course you can’t bring Takeshi Hongo back without also resurrecting the villainous organisation that created him, and this time there’s also an all-out Shocker civil war to deal with. The idea that Nova Shocker aims to control the world through the global economy is the perfect update to the original’s outdated notions of world domination, and ties in nicely with the Shocker Ishinomori created and expanded upon in his original manga. Toei have repeatedly brought back Shocker under various new guises in the past six years, but this is the first time that an update has actually felt natural and relevant. Shocker’s datedness is pushed both through their methods and the visuals, and despite their once great status are constantly touted as the underdogs. But you can’t keep a good villain down, and the return of Ambassador Hell is a turning point that culminates in a wonderful moment of hero and villain fighting side by side. Nova Shocker’s three generals present a genuinely credible threat and are a pleasure to watch onscreen, despite the somewhat minor characterisation. 

Ambassador Hell
You just can't keep a good villain down

Nova Shocker aren’t the only ones that have gotten with the times either, with this film marking the debut of a new look for its starring Rider. In an attempt to not only modernise a 45 year old suit but also make it look like its Hongo under the helmet, the new Rider 1 suit throws out the streamline look and opts for one that prioritises bulk and armour – something you’d expect from a man getting on in years. The film doesn’t pay a great deal of notice as to why the suit has changed, but as a cyborg needing to keep up with the latest threats it doesn’t seem a stretch for Hongo to have made some modifications over time. The added bulk also makes Hongo stand out from Ghost and Specter, whose suits seem almost retro in comparison. Much in the way The Dark Knight Returns re-imagined a much older, bigger Batman who was still more than capable of besting his foes, Kamen Rider 1 has done exactly the same but without any of the emotional baggage that came with it. Making a random appearance on the Ghost side of things are the post-Decade Rider Eyecons, which may bring the canoncity of Rider 1 into question but are certainly the perfect addition for an anniversary movie.

If there was one complaint to be had about this film, it’s the inclusion/use of the Alexander the Great Eyecon. Its relevance is completely shoehorned in, acting only as a way to keep Ghost’s own gimmicks relevant in a film that’s only marginally about the show. However that isn’t to say that there’s no place for an all-powerful Eyecon in the film at all – in fact a better idea would have been to make it a Great Shocker Leader one instead. This way the plot of the film remains exactly the same, however it feels far more relevant and has the added symbolism of the two Shocker factions fighting over their former leader’s power. It fits so perfectly you have to wonder why it wasn’t done in the first place.

The new look Rider 1 with Ghost and Specter
Built like a tank

Kamen Rider 1 might not have the explosive grandeur of the recent Super Hero Taisen films, but what it does have is the heart that they were sorely lacking. The film is a wonderfully 45th anniversary tribute to the hero that started him all, bringing him back properly for one more adventure that brings the Kamen Rider 1 story into modern times. Fujioka plays the role better than ever, and the Ghost cast play their role perfectly in symbolising a crossover between two heroes that may be from different generations but share exactly the same values. Takeru’s closing words of “Takeshi Hongo will always be my hero” couldn’t ring any truer.

The movie's closing words


Lucas said...

Who would of thought that Toshiki Inoue would of wrote a better KR movie? Shoji Yonemura, just give up.

Stephen Cassat said...

KR1 was good. You should review Kamen Rider: The First and Kamen Rider: the Next.