Kamen Rider is one of Japan's premiere superheroes, jumpstarting what viewers recognize as the modern tokusatsu genre and which later gave rise to Super Sentai/Power Rangers. Featuring high-flying kicks and cool motorcycles, the franchise has been popular with kids of all ages in Japan since the 1970s. One entry in the series, however, attempted to go down a much darker path.
Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue was a dark deconstruction of the franchise, turning the superhero tale into a mature body horror freakshow. It's one of the bloodiest and most controversial parts of Kamen Rider history, with little in the way of references years after release. A new reinvention of the series, also titled Shin Kamen Rider, is scheduled to come out in 2023. Although that movie will be much more faithful to the original show, here's a look at the Kamen Rider that dared to be different in the bloodiest way.
What Was Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue?
The story of Shin Kamen Rider follows a motorcycle enthusiast named Shin Kazamatsuri, whose father works alongside a scientist named Onizuka in the field of genetics. Although Dr. Kazamatsuri believes that their research will help to cure diseases such as AIDS and cancer, it's actually part of a project of Onizuka's to create super-soldiers by combining human and grasshopper DNA.
Shin has unwittingly been subjected to these experiments, and at night transforms into a violent humanoid grasshopper monster who violently kills all who stand in his way. Unsure of what he's become or what he will become, he searches desperately for the truth behind his condition. All the while, he runs afoul of both Onizuka's plans and the syndicate funding him, which also happens to have cyborg soldiers at its disposal.
Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue was created as a sort of anniversary project, coming out around 20 years after the original show. Franchise creator Shotaro Ishinomori (who has a cameo in the film) wanted to make a much darker film that would appeal to the now-adult fans of the original series, and the result was something completely removed from the Kamen Rider of old.
Why Shin Kamen Rider Was So Important
For one thing, the name is a bit of a misnomer this time. While Shin rides bikes in human form, his "Kamen Rider" form, which is a mindless monster, does not. This form is a true fusion of man and grasshopper, achieved after Shin undergoes a disgusting and grotesque transformation. This is a far cry from the simplistic "henshins" of the past where Kamen Rider was essentially just a man in a colorful suit, and the movie as a whole has a lot more in common with David Cronenberg's remake of The Fly than typical costumed superhero fiction.
Shin's transformation isn't the only thing horrifying either, as this Kamen Rider unleashes horrendous amounts of violence against his opponents. People are killed in increasingly violent fashions, with the aforementioned cyborgs having different body parts ripped away via moves that look like Mortal Kombat fatalities. Needless to say, those expecting flashy "Rider kick!" attacks will be in for a gritty ride. Kamen Rider Amazon had previously been the most violent Rider, but he's easily eclipsed by Shin's clawed bloodletting.
Sadly, the movie wasn't as successful as hoped, so it merely remained a prologue instead of launching a TV or film series. Still, fans of Kamen Rider and even those who've never seen any of the shows should check it out to see just how different it is compared to the franchise's main entries. Besides the cyborgs and Shin himself, this is a much more down-to-earth take on tokusatsu, with nary a sinister cult, alien or demon to be found. Although it's sure to be more in line with franchise expectations, Hideaki Anno's Shin Kamen Rider can hopefully recapture some of that same subversive flare.