Welcome to Tokusatsu Gesundheit, where we follow long-running franchises into some dark places. Few long-runner installments are darker than 1992’s horror-tinged take on the Kamen Rider franchise, Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue.
Young motorcycle racer Shin Kazamatsuri dreams, in the first person, of brutal murders being carried out by a horrifying grasshopper creature. As he’s currently the test subject of genetic experiment conducted by his father, Dr. Kazamatsuri, and his father’s aloof and somewhat reckless partner, Dr. Onizuka, he’s concerned that he’s the one carrying out these murders. He’ll need to battle his way through a criminal syndicate, the CIA, evil cyborgs, and mad scientists to unravel the mystery of what’s going on.
Produced by series creator Shotaro Ishinomori, Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue was a direct to video feature film intended to appeal to the now-adult fans of the original series. It boiled the story down to its most basic elements – young man unwilling transformed into a super soldier by a shadowy criminal organization, uses those abilities to destroy the organization – and gave it a grittier, more down-to-earth take with more “realistic” violence (fountains of blood over fountains of fireworks).
It went over like a lead balloon, and remains a red-headed stepchild of the wider franchise to this day.
- Shotaro Ishinomori himself cameos near the beginning of the film as a spy bugging the criminal syndicate’s genetics lab. Like a good Stan Lee cameo, this neat but not distracting.
- The CIA agents speak English to their superiors when speaking on the phone, with all the comfort of an actor who learned their lines phonetically.
- The monsters in this film undergo fairly unsettling transformations, which succeed in looking disgusting and painful. The hero is not exempt from these transformations, either. Think “An American Werewolf in London” style instead of the more standard, clean “It’s Morphin’ Time!” style.
- The flick just accepts that grasshoppers are telepathic. It’s actually a core plot point.
While certainly a departure from the franchise’s signature style, Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue is a strong reimagining of the Showa Era’s central premise for the 90s. It’s not without flaws, but it is indeed a decent film and it’s a bit more deserving of respect than its reputation would indicate.
NEXT WEEK: Strange Times & Places comes in at a strange time (12 hours early) to talk about the Halloween themed Elseworlds tale Superman: War of the Worlds.
IN TWO WEEKS: We’ll stay in Toei’s corner of the Tokusatsu galaxy and watch Space Sheriff Gavan: The Movie.