In terms of Tokusatsu (Japanese Special Effects Films & Series) especially those of the Henshin (transforming) hero sub-genre, there are a 3 main franchises. A holy trinity that has stood the test of time. One of these – the Super Sentai Franchise – isn’t available in the US in its original form, instead being available in the localized form of the Power Ranger series. Only two Henshin franchises have made it in some form of their original form. One is Ultraman, the other (which is the subject of this review), is Kamen Rider.

General Information

Masaya Kikawada as Hongou Takeshi/Kamen Rider 1 (Black)
Hassei Takano as Katsuhiko Yano/Ichimonji Hayato/Kamen Rider 2 (Green)
Rena Komine as Asuka Midorikawa
Mayumi Sada as “Lady”
Issa Hentona as “Youth”
Hideyo Amamoto as Dr. Shinigami (Archival Footage)
Eiji Wentz as Haruhiko Mitamura/Cobra
Ryoko Kobayashi as Miyoko Harada/Snake

Directed by Takao Nagaishi
Written by Toshiki Inoue

Available from Amazon.com

The Premise

Hongou Takeshi is a college student working on his doctoral thesis about how Water is a living thing, because of “Water Crystals”. Unfortunately for him, the secret terrorist organization SHOCKER has decided that he would be a perfect candidate for brainwashing and conversion to a cyborg so he can be an assassin for them. Unfortunately for Shocker, he breaks free of their conditioning, and turns against them, to fight as Kamen (Masked) Rider!

High Points

It’s good to see a proper Rider Kick again. For those unfamiliar with the Kamen Rider series, the “Rider Kick” is the classic Kamen Rider finishing move. Some of the more recent Rider series (such as Kabuto) have had the Rider Kick be, essentially, a standing Roundhouse kick to a stationary opponent. This isn’t, visually, very stimulating. By comparison, here’s Kabuto’s Rider Kick, and here’s a similar move from pro wrestling, the Sweet Chin Music. Yes, I realize that the Sweet Chin Music is a side kick, but bear with me. Kamen Rider: The First on the other hand, has the Rider Kick be a full on, wire-work enabled Flying Side Kick. Not quite as awesome as Kiva’s Rider Kick, but still pretty good.

Additionally, in my opinion, this film has the best costumes for the Riders than any of the TV series that I’ve seen as of this writing, and for the other characters as well. If you look at the video for Kabuto’s kick and Kiva’s kick, you’ll notice that there’s a lot of foam rubber there. This is a semi-intrinsic problem for the Kamen Rider franchise in general – because of the whole “beetle” motif for the Riders, we get a lot of foam rubber body armor on them –  stuff that’s even more bulky than some of the outfits used in the Batman movies. With this film on the other hand, the foam rubber is mainly confined to the chest of the outfit. Further, any elaborate decorations on the character’s outfits are confined to the helmets. This includes Shocker’s bad guys as well. This allows for more mobility for the actors, and in turn, better fight scenes.

Low Points

I thought the science in Impact was the worst science I’d ever seen. Water being organic entities due to the fact that water crystals (ice) grow ties that.

Additionally, the fact that Katsuhiko and Ichimonji are the same person isn’t executed very well. The only reason I figured it out is I came across that information while I was getting the cast list together. Now, both of these things could have actually been executed better (Hongou could have been using an analogy, and Ichimonji could have phrased it better), but I don’t speak Japanese, so I have to go with Media Blasters’ subtitles.

The subplot with Haruhiko and Miyoko also isn’t executed very well. It’s not very clearly established that it’s a flashback until after the sub-plot has concluded, and it doesn’t help that we don’t see Snake and Cobra until after the sequence has concluded, so I found it difficult to build up the empathy they were trying to get. Even after the reveal, the entire “Star-Crossed Terminally Ill Lovers” sub-plot feels entirely tacked on.

The Scores

Originality: This is a re-imagining of the original series, with a few modifications (such as added back-story for Snake & Cobra). 4 out of 6.

Effects: The effects aren’t particularly spectacular – though this was a stylistic decision. The CGI we do get though (some veins in peoples arms, some falling glass, and the communication system for SHOCKER’s leaders), looks pretty good. 4 out of 6.

Story: The film’s story isn’t particularly deep or intricate, but it’s almost executed well, except for the explanation about Ichimonji’s identity, and the sub-plot about Haruhiko and Miyoko (which nearly stops the film dead every time it comes up). 3 out of 6.

Acting: The acting is pretty good. Nothing really grates on my nerves. My one complaint is that in the middle of the film, Masaya’s performance as Hongou turns out pretty wooden. He’s good at the beginning, and good at the end. In the middle, though, his performance is very blah. 3 out of 6

Production: The production is rather impressive. Some of this doesn’t come out right away in the film itself (more in the making of documentary that’s on the DVD), but while it isn’t groundbreaking, there’s some impressive work in here.  The Riders have segmented removable masks in the first time in the franchise (allowing them to remove their masks on camera). The costumes for the other SHOCKER Cyborgs look good while preserving mobility (as opposed to the foam rubber monstrosities that are in the TV series). It’s not Lord of the Rings, but it looks good and sounds good, considering the budget. 4 out of 6.

Emotional Response: This part is really uneven. The main plot does a good job of provoking an emotional response. However, the sub-plot undermines a lot of the work the main plot does, forcing it to fight to recover, and it just can’t do it. 3 out of 6.

Overall: I enjoyed this movie, and it’s not a bad movie, but the Haruhiko & Miyoko sub-plot does more harm to this film than good, leaving me with an experience that’s fairly average. 3 out of 6.

In total, Kamen Rider: The First gets 24 out of 42.