Note: I watched Shin Kamen Rider in raw Japanese with no subtitles, and given that this is an Anno film, I had some difficulty following some of the high-speed dialogue and technical language. I understood a lot, and I checked a summary afterwards to affirm the basics, but I definitely didn’t understand everything, so take my review with an additional shake of salt or two.

Edited to add: It has come to my attention that some readers have taken the above disclaimer to mean I don’t understand Japanese, and that I shouldn’t have written a review of Shin Kamen Rider as a result. Honestly, I am very sympathetic to such concerns, which is why I issued the above disclaimer in the first place–but for what it’s worth, I have put a lot of effort into my Japanese studies. I have lived in Japan for over ten years, have read scads and scads of manga in Japanese, read multiple novels and short story collections in Japanese (some of which I have reviewed here on Toho Kingdom), interviewed Japanese in the manga and tokusatsu industries in Japanese, and I regularly meet with my students to talk with them in Japanese as well. It’s true there were parts of this movie I didn’t understand, but I did understand a lot of it, and it doesn’t really have a deeply complicated plot, so I decided to go ahead and write this review. If you as a reader are uncomfortable with this and prefer to wait for reviewers who had access to the film in their native language, I totally get it–I may come back and edit this review later when I can watch the film with Japanese subtitles so I can double check the individual lines. And despite my deeply negative review below, I do hope you enjoy the movie for what it is–whenever I go to a movie, I hope to enjoy it and get something good out of it, but this one just didn’t work for me. I certainly do not wish Hideaki Anno ill-will either, despite my disappointment in hearing of his alleged on-set conduct–I think he is a fantastic artist, and I wish him the best in his future projects. Thank you for reading.

Feisty hyper-successful otaku god Hideaki Anno returns with the fourth installment of the “Shin” series, this time reimagining Toei tokusatsu juggernaut Kamen Rider with his signature gloom, long-winded speeches, and anime-aesthetics—and Anno fans will know he is fulfilling a childhood dream with this movie. As a teen, Anno made amateur Rider short films which have survived, several of which were shown at the recent Hideaki Anno Exhibit in 2022. In these films, Anno donned a homemade suit and battled through parody episodes of daring and do. But where those films had youthful ardor and humorous enthusiasm, Anno’s official foray into Kamen Rider mythos with Toei’s enthusiastic blessing feels cold, crammed, stuffy, and downright messy—and doesn’t seem nearly as new or interesting as the average annual Rider drama incarnation.

The tale starts off well, with a high-octane woodland fight scene in which Kamen Rider/Takeshi Hongo (played by Sosuke Ikematsu, Death Note: Light Up the World [2016]) eviscerates a gang of SHOCKER goons with graphic, bloody splatter. Kamen Rider rescues stoic Ruriko Midorikawa (Minami Hamabe, The Promised Neverland [2020]) from the villains’ clutches. Afterwards, hiding in a convenient spooky cabin, Hongo must fight with the violence inside his new form. In the same cabin is Ruriko’s father (Shinya Tsukamoto, the director of Tetsuo: the Iron Man [1989]!), a member of evil organization SHOCKER who wants out, but he is fighting against the evil baddies by assisting Hongo and asks our conflicted hero to protect his magical daughter (who has glowing eyes and strange powers). A lot happens, so to avoid spoilers, let’s speak in generalities from here: For the rest of the movie, one monster after another emerges from the darkness to menace Hongo and greater Japan, each with their own set of maniacal abilities—and very little backstory. Hongo crashes through them with some drama and damage, but not much strategy, leading up to a final clash against the ringleader who has some kind of ties to Ruriko and manages his own secret armies and abilities with a taste for self-aggrandizement.

After a truly exciting, action-packed opening set of money-shots and truly heart-pumping set pieces—the best fights in the whole movie for my cash—Shin Kamen Rider loses its steam and grows very tiresome with a litany of storytelling and production faults that ruined the movie. The movie really rubbed me the wrong way, and as the action unfolded on screen, I became more and more frustrated with the film’s excesses—and my annoyance became even more severe after the movie was over as I became more familiar with the wider Rider franchise.

While I tried to dance around the story problems in the synopsis above, and will continue to avoid major spoilers here, almost nothing worked for me except to a limited degree our hero Hongo. We don’t get a full-fledged character with the embattled hero, but his tortured soul and pure heart that rage against the blood-thirsty instinct of his Rider-side lend much-needed pathos and ignition to the film. I can’t say the same for any of the other characters. Ruriko is the worst, played with severe boredom by Minami Hamabe. Perhaps as a reflection of Anno’s dedication to nigh-emotionless girls (see Rei from Evangelion or Hiromi Ogashira from Shin Godzilla [2016]), Ruriko anti-emotes, pulling a cardboard face of impassioned apathy for most of her long-winded scenes. The villains, though possessing some cool costume designs, also chatter on during the increasingly lackluster fight sequences, spoiling the energy of the encounters with unneeded and obnoxious prattle. There are so many baddies, too—like with Shin Ultraman (2022), it feels like a veritable march of shady slimeballs chewing at the woodwork. None of them has enough screentime to develop into an interesting antagonist—especially the final “boss” who is yet another preening, cliched nothing. While the movie has some supposedly shocking deaths that are meant to twang the heart strings, my heart remained untwanged as I became more and more annoyed at the pedestrian storytelling.


All of this is made worse by often awful action sequences. The first battle action set pieces felt dynamic and impactful, with the blood gouts hitting viewers with the grim message that this is a grown-up Rider for grown-up tastes. Very clearly Anno is reaching for the unhinged, horror vibe that made the original Kamen Rider such a meteoric feat back in the 1970s, eschewing the often colorful and ridiculous kiddy milieus of tokusatsu back in the day. Here, the gore quickly comes to feel like weak salad dressing on limp fights peppered with awful shaky cam, riddled with hard-to-follow edits, and handicapped by often truly terrible CGI. I thought the CGI work looked worse than either Shin Godzilla or Shin Ultraman. The Heisei and Reiwa entries of Kamen Rider often have cheap CGI, but some of them still manage sequences with equal or greater clarity than this movie, and often eke out more excitement and creativity than Shin Kamen Rider does—on a cheaper budget and on the small screen. After the gripping initial throwdown of the movie, the subsequent monster encounters tend to become a mess of poorly-executed anime-inspired nonsense that utterly lacks the hammering thunder of some of the better Rider fights, such as in last year’s Kamen Rider Revice: Battle Familia featuring freaking Kane Kosugi in blood-pumping knockdown clashes. That movie lacked Shin’s blood splatter, but was far more exciting. There are even fights in Shin that have so many cuts and similar-looking characters that they can become tiresome to look at, and by the end I hated the direction Anno had decided to take the movie. (Note: I wrote this criticism before the Shin Kamen Rider documentary was released, which has some damning information about how Anno sabotaged the fight choreography and treated his staff with tyrannical and absurd demands, driving the fight action coordinator off the set for a time with his ridiculousness. The appalling results speak for themselves, and almost all the sequences in which the kaijin/Augments are defeated and the final battle too felt deeply unsatisfying to me.)

Designs of the Riders, costumes, and mechs are a toss-up of inspiration and defecation. Hongo’s main Kamen Rider is a loving tribute to the original, with wicked cool spiky gloves, though it clings pretty close to the old school style. The dreadlocked spider man (or Kumo Augment) with glowing eyes and fast moves nearly matches our hero with style and steel—though frankly it feels like a remixed version of the spider kaijin from Kamen Rider the First (2005). Then the dumpy bat man arrives, with his dorky folded face and garbage CGI effects that destroy much of the sense of awe or style built up via the jerky animation. The off-kilter silliness of the bat man character then characterizes much of the tone of the film, with each proceeding beast-man (or woman) striding about with all the subtlety of a circus clown. (Note that the spider-man and bat-man kaijin are a staple of Kamen Rider shows, generally appearing in the first couple episodes, and they are a deliberate jab at two particular comic heroes from the States.) None of the kaijin have much for background stories or personal interest—they just have all the scenery firmly jammed in their cheeks as they chew, chew, chew. The movie doesn’t get close to the character depth of Cobra and Snake from Kamen Rider the First or the first monster to appear in Kamen Rider 555, for example. I did really like the new Rider motorcycle, though—it’s transforming enhancements and hard-angled elegance are hard-core rad. I also dig Ruriko’s long-coat, lending the character a sweet detective vibe. That said, for some bizarre reason, Anno decided to freaking muffle the Rider’s voice whenever he wears his helmet, conjuring Bane from The Dark Knight Rises (though not as indecipherable). Still, the choice had me grinding my already stripped ear gears, wondering why they added a layer of audio pain.

Kumo Augment

Speaking of audio, the music by Taku Iwasaki (who also worked with Anno on Gurenn Lagan) has some real highs, but also a share of lows. I love the tracks from the trailer. When that electronic chugging, thumping, buzzing tune started up, I was there for it, eating up the thunder, every time. Unfortunately, the music strays from the dramatic styling to other disparate feels, such as jazz and some limited callback tunes to the old timey show, among other flavors, and thus the soundtrack seemed to lack coherence, with some of the melodies distracting from the film and its desperate desire to be cool.

As part of my preparation for this review, I taste-tested all the Kamen Rider television shows and web mini-series (even the Kamen Sentai Gorider show). As I watched the first episode or two or three of each program, I wrote up my comments (I have been posting said thoughts over on my blog)—and I absolutely adore Kamen Rider now! The shows generally have some major flaws such as bad acting and effects, but they are filled with such inventiveness and sense of joy crossed with wild creepiness, and so many go in surprising directions with memorable characters and enthusiasm. The more I watched them, the more I came to be disappointed with Shin Kamen Rider. Bizarrely, if you look back on the history of Kamen Rider, there were at least two other “Shin Kamen Riders”—one a television show that brings flight into the Rider arsenal, the other a theatrical film featuring an organic Rider and hideous body horror elements. Anno’s movie seems most closely patterned after the previously mentioned reboot film Kamen Rider the First. Both films feature the Rider wearing a helmet instead of straight up transforming magically into an armored warrior, and there are other major plot points and favorite characters that appear in both films—but while Kamen Rider the First film focused hard on character drama, with Shin the human element falls apart. The human characters are so thin, like colorful but insubstantial tissue paper, so if you lose one or two, it doesn’t feel like much of a loss. The twists in the film, the supposed surprises, also completely faceplanted, just coming across as uninteresting shallow tale-spinning. The thing is, the Kamen Rider show has reinvented itself dramatically so often already—from the crazed supernatural Japanese Tarzan from Amazon, to the drum-bashing oni-rider in Hibiki, to the time-traveling train in Den-O, to the Rider doctor from Ex-Aid, the police Rider from Drive, the novelist Rider from Saber—heck, there is even an undead ghost Rider and an actual wizard! While Anno made such a splash with his imaginative evolving Godzilla in Shin Godzilla, his Shin Kamen Rider is downright boring next to the innovations from the TV show.

Some fans of Kamen Rider might be interested in the bloody combat, as occasionally the fisticuffs lead to splattered heads and arterial spray. The movie is the most grotesque of the live-action Shin films, being rated PG12 in Japan, and it felt a little startling to me even with the horror-themed history of the franchise—especially when at my showing this parent came in with a toddler several minutes in. But Shin Kamen Rider is nowhere near the bloodiest or darkest Rider incarnation—the web series Kamen Rider Amazons and Kamen Rider Black Sun both go nastier and gorier, both leaning into lots of unsettling gross-out battles and attack sequences. Heck, even the original Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue (1992) is bloodier AND more interesting, as that version is a biopunk shocker that takes obvious inspiration from Cronenberg’s The Fly remake and sequel from the late 80s. The bubbly deaths of SHOCKER henchmen looks way worse in CGI than it did in the original mega-cheap analog effects from the original show; while those effects were obvious, they had a simple creepiness that the new film lacks. Shin Kamen Rider seems tamer and blander than many cheaper, less celebrated, more daring versions of the character over the years, which is a huge failing for what’s supposed to be an incarnation from a celebrated auteur.

Movie Review: Shin Kamen Rider

One significant plus must be said, though—the movie does look good, with some gorgeous shot compositions, and far fewer of the frantic slash-cuts and eclectic camera angles and none of the huge intertitles of previous Shin films. Anno can make a pretty picture, though I did get the sense AGAIN that he was referencing Evangelion with some of the shots, and it made me a bit impatient for something more innovative. But even with that complaint, the movie IS genuinely pretty, with aesthetically-pleasing cinematography and moody, stark lighting.

Regardless of the fact that it’s now the most financially successful in the Kamen Rider series of films spanning dozens and dozens of entries, I was sorely disappointed with Shin Kamen Rider, and not even a pair of bonus trading cards handed out at the cinema could becalm my frustration. (If I wanted to collect them all, presumably I’d have to go upwards of ten times to the movie, and after my one sit-down with the movie, I wasn’t interested in seeing this mess again.) While some of the action looks great, so much of the effects and staging are jittery yeesh-level trash action, and while some of the costumes look frigging cool, others are cheap or just gaudy. The story tries to jam endless popular baddies and characters into its double-stuffed narrative, but more bad action doesn’t add up to thrills, and more jabbery pseudo philosophizing doesn’t add up to intelligence. I wish Anno had just made an animated Rider show, as the franchise has had so little in the realm of animation, and I think he would have handled the film much better in that format. For me at least, this live-action version felt like a kick in the shins, and if this is where the series is going, I don’t need another tokusatsu reboot from Anno anytime soon.

2 Stars