Kamen Rider (or Masked Rider as it's often called in the US) is one of the longest running hero franchises in Japan (second only to Ultraman) with a new incarnation of the show (Kamen Rider Den-O) currently airing. It has also been credited with being the first Henshin (transform in Japanese) series and started a whole genre of TV shows. Though it was preceded by Ultraman, Kamen Rider doesn't fight giant Godzilla-type monsters, instead he battles normal human sized villains. The first incarnation, simply titled Kamen Rider, started in 1971 and lasted two seasons. During this series Kamen Rider (Hiroshi Fujioka), a powerful cyborg, fought the evil terrorist organization Shocker that had their sights on world domination. Early into the show's run however Fujioka broke his leg badly while doing a motorcycle stunt and could no longer perform. To deal with this the writers created a second hero to protect Japan, Kamen Rider 2 (Takeshi Sasaki). When Fujioka recovered he rejoined the series for the rest of the program's 98 episode run.
Fast forward nearly 35 years and the original Kamen Rider is reborn, this time for the silver screen. In 2005 franchise owners TOEI Tokyo Studios created a feature length movie based on this classic series but updating it for the new millennium: Kamen Rider the First. As with most updates of classic shows however, the charm and appeal of the original is lost in this film and it would be surprising if this effort made any new Kamen Rider fans.
Hongo Takeshi (Masaya Kikawada) is working toward his masters degree and really love his research. He's able to relate his enthusiasm for his work to Asuka Midorikawa (Rena Komine) who is writing a story about him, and he starts falling in love with the attractive reporter. He knows that he can't do anything about his feelings because Asuka is engaged to marry Katsuhiko Yano (Hassei Takano).
Going home from work one day, Hongo is kidnapped by Shocker, a terrorist organization, and transformed into a cyborg "Hopper", a grasshopper-helmeted super-powered person with amazing abilities. Lacking free will, Hongo is ordered to rob an office building. He then has to kill anyone who saw him, and this included Asuka and Katshuiko. Though he's ordered to kill the woman he once loved, Hongo can't. He rebels against Shocker and saves Asuka. Unfortunately he isn't able to rescue Katshuiko, who is killed, and Asuka wrongly thinks that Hongo is the person responsible for her fiancée's death.
Katshuiko may not be as dead as everyone thinks however. Shocker has taken his body and created another Hopper cyborg with him, the best thing to send after their rouge hopper. He returns to Asuka but claims to be a different person, named Hayoto Inchimonji. With his new found powers, Hayoto vows to kill Hongo for the glory of Shocker and so that he can have the lovely Asuka to himself.
There's also a subplot about two terminally ill patients in a hospital, a man and a woman. The lady is outgoing and happy, while the man is suicidal and constantly depressed. Over the course of the film these two help each other deal with their diseases and fall in love. Oh yeah, and this plot all happened in a flashback, at least I think it did.
This is a mess of a movie. There's just a lot of things wrong with it. The dialog is horrid, the script is confusing and the plot moves at a snails pace. The worst thing however is that there's not a lot of action. Based on a monster-of-the-week kid's show, you'd think that the movie would be sprinkled with fights and battles. Wrong. There are a couple of fights but these are over quickly and not very exciting. The big grand finale battle scene is the only one that has any excitement at all. The producers for some unknown reason added significant amounts of adult drama and removed the more endearing qualities of the original show. There weren't any hastily choreographed battles with men in rubber suits, instead we're treated to a love triangle between Riders 1 and 2 and Asuka. This was incredibly boring and only served to slow the plot down every time it started moving a little.
The movie didn't make a lot of sense either. Near the beginning a Shocker general states that the cyborgs they make have to have regular blood transfusions or they will die. This is one of the reasons that Kamen Rider 2 is loyal to Shocker, and an important plot point. Unfortunately they just drop this about half way through the movie. Why didn't Rider 2 die? Or 1 for that matter?
Then there's Asuka. She sees Hondo hovering over her fiancée just before he dies and is convinced that he killed him. She doesn't call the police though. She just throws it in his face every time they are alone. He, of course, never denies that he's a murderer. For God's sake why?
The whole subplot about the two terminal patients seems like padding. Though it eventually links back to the main plot, that whole section, about a quarter of the entire film, could have been left out and the movie wouldn't have been significantly different.
The acting wasn't great either. Both male leads were wooden and drab in their roles, and though Rena Komine was nice to look at, she never seemed to show any emotion. I was excited to hear that Hiroshi Miyauchi was going to play Tachibana Tobei, the Rider's mentor, in this film. Miyauchi, for those who aren't familiar with him, is a hensin legend. He played the original Kamen Rider V3 and then went on to be the first Blue Ranger. He is in this movie, but he's on screen for less than a minute and only has one line. Another disappointment for a rather unimpressive film.
I was astounded to discover that this theatrically released film that was made in 2005 only comes with a stereo soundtrack in Japanese. While an English dub would have been nice (after all young kids are the target audience for the show) the lack of a 5.1 track for an action film is unforgivable. The action scenes would have had much more impact with stereo rear channels and a dedicated track for low frequencies. As it is the stereo soundtrack is fine but rather lifeless. The battles lacked the *umph* that they should have had. The dialog was clear and the audio track was clean, but it was rather disappointing.
The 1.85:1 anamorphic image looks good at first glance, but the accumulation of minor compression artifacts and defects leaves the disc looking less than stellar. Aliasing is a problem with this disc, with fine diagonal lines having a stair step effect instead of being straight. Posterization was also very prevalent. This was most evident in large patches of color like the afternoon sky. Instead of transmuting seamlessly from one color to the next, the sky would have bands of color. This was a problem with skin tones too and was particularly bad in the scene near the end where Asuka and Hongo have tea by the sea. They both looked very odd. The colors are adequate but on the dull side. A movie like this should be filled with bright comic book like colors but it isn't. Much of the movie takes place at night or inside, and the colors are never as solid and strong as I feel they should be. Overall a rather unimpressive looking disc.
In addition to a TV spot and theatrical trailer for the movie, there is a making of featurette. This is not narrated, and simply a look at the cast and crew shooting the film. There are occasional titles to set the time or place, but generally the viewer is on their own to figure out what's going on.
I really wanted to recommend this. I was hoping that it would
sell well and then some studio would license the original series and release
it here in region 1. Alas, in good conscience I can't do that.
This film doesn't work on a lot of levels, mainly because the creators
forgot what made Kamen Rider so much fun in the first place; cool fights
with goofy monsters. Fans of Japanese hensin shows will surely want
to check this out, but they should make it a rental. It's
really not worth buying the DVD.