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Film Review: SHIN KAMEN RIDER: A Serviceable Japanese Superhero Movie with Plenty of Action [Fantasia 2023]

Hongo Shin Kamen Rider

Shin Kamen Rider Review

Shin Kamen Rider (2023) Film Review from the 27th Annual Fantasia International Film Festival, a movie directed by Hideaki Anno, written by Shotaro Ishinomori and Hideaki Anno and starring Sosuke Ikematsu, Minami Hamabe, Tasuku Emoto, Shin’ya Tsukamoto, Mikako Ichikawa, Kanata Hongo, Masami Nagasawa, Toru Nokamura, Ken Yasuda, Tori Matsuzaka, Nao Omori and Ryo Tani.

Filmmaker Hideaki Anno has crafted a Japanese superhero movie that simply doesn’t let up. It’s called Shin Kamen Rider and is about a different type of masked avenger. Takeshi Hongo (Sosuke Ikematsu) is the hero of the movie–a man with a grasshopper face helmet with huge eyes who rides a motorcycle and takes on a group of evil folks who brainwash people and make them villains who look like over-sized insects. These bad guys are known collectively as SHOCKER (the letters of which stand for something way more complicated than I could probably comprehend). Anno’s movie plays with the material at hand and has a lot of fun creating its complicated yet layered story of good vs. evil with some characters who could be classified as somewhere in-between heroic and bad.

Enter Ruriko (Minami Hamabe) who stands beside Hongo in an effort to go up against SHOCKER and save the day. She’s a genuinely compelling character in a superhero story that is both clever and oddly absurd at the same time. Hamabe is excellent in the way she portrays Ruriko, a character of integrity whose father’s fate will foreshadow her own in the movie. Hamabe is a big part of what makes Shin Kamen Rider work so well as her character has the wisdom that helps guide the central character, Hongo, and the movie’s story line as well.

Hongo has typical superhuman strength as well as a backstory in which his father was killed. He may be a little cliched but the action scenes in this movie are anything but familiar. These sequences work best towards the end where battles occur that will change society forever and also help elect a new hero to assist Hongo named Ichimonji (Tasuku Emoto).

Ruriko’s brother, Ichiro (Mikako Ichikawa) is a major part of the action here. Ichiro emulates a butterfly and this character is the way he is because of their mother’s untimely murder. This premise employs a lot of brainwashing attempts (some of them are successful in turning characters in the movie evil) in an interesting way that help make the action enjoyable as characters take on the likeness of insects like grasshoppers and wasps. This stuff is all creativity at its best.

The helmet that Hongo wears is a character in the movie in and of itself as it also seems to possess the magic that embodies Hongo’s soul. This film has a lot of good set pieces but the deaths of many key characters in the movie take some of the fun out of it. There’s too much seriousness here and not enough action for action’s sake. Instead, the film is like a fight to the death for its characters and every death seems to symbolize something. Ruriko has some moving moments, though, and is definitely the most well-written character here. Hongo has a likable enough screen presence to make the picture work as a superhero film. Hamabe and Ikematsu have a solid screen rapport together than enhances the entertainment factor of the movie quite a bit.

The bad group of villains called SHOCKER are not easily wiped out by our heroic characters. In fact, this film leaves a door wide open for a sequel which could be interesting since Hongo passes the torch to another character in the picture at the conclusion. The “Kamen Rider,” Hongo, is heroic enough to keep the viewer invested in the action scenes that the movie displays at a fast and furious pace. A scene set in a tunnel is particularly effective as Hongo dodges bullets to be a superhero audiences will enjoy rooting for throughout.

Another interesting concept the movie presents is called a “Habitat Realm” where some characters’s souls go and this theme, though only dealt with for a small portion of the movie, proves to be one of the most original things about the film as a whole. The costumes are all perfectly designed and the breakneck pace is one of the best qualities the film possesses. It’s hard to believe this movie is 2 hours long since the scenes fly by at a quick and steady speed.

Shin Kamen Rider is deeper than it seems to be on the surface. Themes of life, death and vengeance are tackled in a fashion that makes this an assured outing for action movie fans. While the movie lacks the feel-good aspects of today’s American superhero pictures, the darker tone that this film possesses might be something moviegoers will embrace in America since the outfits are so unique and the themes tend to be more thought-provoking than were probably anticipated. Still, this is a flawed movie overall. Too much happens with too many government agents and other characters popping up who prove to be more of a distraction than a genuine asset to the movie. But, Shin Kamen Rider offers audiences the type of action scenes that will make it worthwhile for those who would choose to watch this movie in the first place.

Rating: 7/10

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