Kamen Rider V3 is to the Kamen Rider series what Ultra Seven was to
the Ultraman series; a high point for the series and the template for all the
subsequent sequels. Kamen Rider V3 was the first
sequel to the groundbreaking original Kamen Rider series (Toei, 1971)
and was in many ways an improvement over its predecessor. Starring the charming and athletic Miyauchi Hiroshi, Kamen Rider V3
was less a "monster-of-the-week" slugfest and more a human drama that,
while dressed as a tokusatsu ("special effects") kid's show, was a show that
strove not to patronize its viewers.
Unlike other tokusatsu series of
the time that tended to have dumbed-down stories to appeal to its
target kid audiences, Kamen Rider V3 offered much more mature stories. The sheer audacity and boldness of screenwriters
Igami Masaru, Suzuki Ikuro, Shimada Masayuki, Takizawa Mari, etc. was
clearly evident in the two-part origin story which had both Kamen
Riders #1 and #2 "killed" to save Kamen Rider V3. This theme of tragedy and death would repeat itself throughout the series,
especially with the introduction of V3's partner Yuki Joji a.k.a. "Riderman".
Thus it was with great anticipation that I eagerly awaited the release
of Toei's follow-up film to their revisioning of the Kamen Rider TV
series Kamen Rider The First, the humorously titled Kamen Rider
The Next, which features the debut of the Kamen Rider V3 character. Having been disappointed by the first movie, I had high expectations
for this new film, which I hoped would be a spectacular, action-heavy improvement over its predecessor (in much the same way as
was Spider-Man 2). Perhaps that was wishful thinking as I found this
sequel in some ways even more flawed, absurd, confusing and problematic
than the first film.
While called The Next, the film surprisingly doesn't even introduce
Kamen Rider V3 until well near the middle of the film, choosing
instead to focus the bulk of the first half on the star of The First, Hongo Takeshi (Masaya Kikawada), a.k.a. Kamen Rider No.
1. Hongo was the kaizou ("altered human") who abducted by the sinister global
terrorist organization SHOCKER (Sacred Hegemony Of Cycle Kindred
Evolutional Realm) in an attempt to make him into a super soldier
against the world.
Having successfully escaped from the influence of SHOCKER, Hongo is now
struggling with adapting to normal life again, taking a job as a
science teacher at a local high school. However, Hongo's meek personality makes him the laughingstock of his students, who literally ignore
him during his class. Yet he still tries to involve himself in his
student's lives, especially that of one particular troubled girl, the rebellious
and tough talking Kikuma Kotomi (Ishida Miku).
As Hongo soon discovers, Kikuma has quite an interesting history. Both
parents died when she was still young and she now lives alone in a
small apartment. Kikuma is a childhood friend of reigning
J-Pop idol Chiharu (Mori Erika) who has been getting much hype of late
for her debut album. In addition to being a critical hit, the album has also
generated some controversy as some have said it contains subliminal messages that drive weak-minded listeners into a
killing frenzy - something that Chiharu's handlers have denied.
Kotomi tells Hongo that she hasn't seen Chiharu for some time and is
worried about her. Hongo agrees to help Kotomi find Chiharu, which
proves to be much easier than expected. Yet as in typical J-Horror
fashion, things aren't as they seem. Chiharu is in fact a doppelganger who was made to resemble the
singer via plastic surgery after the real Chiharu was killed in a
tragic backstage incident. Chiharu's spirit has come from beyond the
grave as a vengeful spirit and is intent on seeking revenge on those
responsible for her death (her handlers, and the two wannabe idols
who have taken on her identity).
Amidst this ghost story, the SHOCKER organization is also on the attack
and is planning a massive assault on Tokyo using nanotechnology to
kill all weak humans. Those that have the unique genetic makeup that
makes them immune to the nano-virus are recruited to become super
soldiers. Hongo teams up with his sometime rival
and fellow super soldier, Ichimonji Hayato (Takano Hasei) a.k.a. Kamen
Rider No. 2 to stop the threat.
They are soon joined by former software
entrepreneur Kazami Shiro (Kato Kazuki), who was infected by the
nano-virus and transformed into the newest Kamen Rider, V3 (Version 3),
and is conveniently also the older brother of Chiharu. Their
opponents are the manic and sadistic Scissors Jaguar (Taguchi Tomone)
and his sexy, masochistic partner Chainsaw Lizard (Mashiko Rie), both of
whom are cyborg/animal/human hybrids and who lead an army of Kamen
Rider clones collectively known as the SHOCKER Riders.
The convoluted plot is a confusing mess that tries too hard to emulate
the J-Horror creepiness of films like Ju-On: The Grudge, while at the
same time pandering to the teen demographic by lifting elements of the
music/romance film Nana. The results fall way short off the mark.
Why director Tasaki Ryota, a veteran of tokusatsu TV, and writer Inoue
Toshiki (Kamen Rider 555, Cutie Honey, Chojin Sentai Jetman)
decide not to tie the Chiharu storyline with the SHOCKER
storyline is anyone's guess. It's as if Tasaki was trying to merge two films into one. The result is
a mixed up hybrid that doesn't know what to be - similar to the
composite half-animal/half-cyborg creatures in the film.
While the stunt-work and wire-fu provided by stunt director Yokoyama Makoto
and his AAC Stunts team are impressive and a step above the normal
stunt-work seen on tokusatsu TV, it can't save the film. Neither can
the visually stunning and very attractive costume designs from famed
anime illustrator Izubuchi Yutaka. They are but pretty bows and ribbons
to an otherwise mediocre film. Even the VFX work by Kobayashi Shingo and his team at Studio Galapagos
(in co-operation with rival studio Tsuburaya) can't distract from the
Kikawada Masaya (Battle Royale II, Whiteout) makes for an attractive
but dull hero. His Hongo Takeshi character is quite different from the
one originated by 70s macho action star Fujioka Hiroshi. Kikawada's
hero has more of a Clark Kent/Superman vibe to him by way of Smallville than anything else. Hasei Takano's (Ultraman Gaia, Kamen
Rider Ryuki) Ichimonji Hayato is also a bit different from the TV
series version (played by Sasaki Takeshi). Hasei plays Hayato more
like a spoiled rich playboy (shades of Batman, perhaps). He has the
cool bishonen look but the antihero cliche wears thin fast. Newest
hero Kato Kazuki (Kamen Rider Kabuto) doesn't add anything new to his
portrayal of Kazami Shiro a.k.a. V3. His conflicted personality and
switching allegiances seems all too familiar - much like Rider Man
from the original V3 series.
Gravure idol and model Mori Erika looks like your typical Hello!
Project singing idol. However, she can't generate the necessary sympathy for
her character Chiharu - although she makes a valiant effort
towards the end, while buried underneath layers of VFX makeup. Model Ishida Miku
also attempts to overcome the silly material but can't do much than
play the typical rough tomboy that is so common in tokusatsu stories. Taguchi Tomone (Tetsuo, Tetsuo II: Body Hammer) seems a perfect fit
for his role as the cyborg villain Scissors Jaguar and his hammy, campy
performance is lively. Mashiko Rie is also pure eye-candy in her vampy
Kamen Rider The Next is reminiscent of the 80s film Masters of the
Universe or the recent Speed Racer, a vapid and pure visual spectacle
whose aim is to dull the mind while banking on flashy
visuals to sway the senses. Unlike the much superior Ultraman Mebius
and the Ultra Brothers there is no sense of nostalgic joy for the
old shows and no sense of continuity or history. I sure hope that the
rumors regarding a Next sequel (hinted to be Kamen Rider The Last)
don't come to pass. Even with the gimmick of a Rider Man or Rider Lady thrown
into the mix, I doubt that the story will be much of an improvement. (JMaruyama 2008)