In my recent interest in watching Tokusatsu shows, I’ve been most curious about learning more about the shows that I always wanted to know more about.
Kamen Rider was a show that I knew very little about, so I jumped in to find out more about the creation of the series and the shows creator.
Lets’s talk briefly about Kamen Rider’s creator Shotaro Ishinomori. Ishinomori was a prolific manga artist who, in all honestly, created two out of the three most famous Japanese superhero concepts (the one he didn’t create was Ultraman). He created the GoRangers (the show that started the Sentai tv shows, aka THE Power Rangers stuff) and Kamen Rider, a show that became insanely popular in a short time.
While he also created other famous characters like Cyborg 009 and Kikaider, it was Kamen Rider that he would be most associated with.
The creation of Kamen Rider started when Ishinomori was trying to sell his Manga character, Skull Man, to be a TV show.
While Executives wanted to do something with Ishinomori, they felt that Skull Man was a bit too much for children’s television. (he was psychopath murder, fun kid stuff of course!)
So, Ishinomori reworked the concept and created…..
Kamen Rider is about Takeshi Hongo, a biochemist student at Jounan University (with an IQ of 600) who also races motorcycles as part of the Tachibana Racing team. His skills are what made him a perfect choice for the evil organization SHOCKER, to turn him into one of their deadly cyborg warriors.
SHOCKER successfully kidnaps Hongo, transforming him into Kamen Rider. But before they can complete the process and make him 100% their own, he escapes! Vowing revenge for turning him to a monster, Hongo made it his life mission to destroy and defeat SHOCKER!
While I was preparing myself to sit down and watch a fun show, I wasn’t prepared to see how incredibly unique this series is. The first eight episodes of this series is this amazing, experimental super hero series that gets the genre better then most super hero shows.
Imagine if you will, a show that has all the inherent silliness of the Adam West Batman series; the bright colors, the silly costumes, the score…except, add a bit more grit to it AND play the stories straight. See, the Adam West series always suppose to be a comedy. Kamen Rider takes all of that, but adds up the angst and the tortured avenger. See, what I’m trying to tell you is, the 1971 Kamen Rider series is basically a Batman series! And it’s totally awesome.
One of the things that Ishinomori wanted to do with this series was make it a show that can be scary to kids (which explains why he wanted to do his Skull Man comic as show) so the show has this amazing, grindhouse horror vibe in the early episodes. The early episodes had loads of moody lighting, scary and near death situation for helpless victims, and loads of monsters in which the designs were meant to be more terrifying then cool looking. (with various degrees of success.)
The first eight episodes of the series is also amazingly experimental in it’s camera work, editing and visual effects. The camera work is my favorite thing about the first eight episodes of the show. The camera work is kinetic and exciting, and loose. It gives the show a great bit of energy while your watching it. One of my favorite shots is the episode in which the camera flips upside down during a fight that Hongo has against the Shocker henchmen called Combatmen.
The Combatmen fights are also a great deal of fun. One of the early ideas in the show is that whenever a Combatman dies, his body disappears differently depending on the SHOCKER monster they are working for. Some times they turn into foam, burn up or even strangely turn into a string of pearls. It doesn’t always work, and I can see why they eventual gave up on making a death different per combatmen, but it’s this kind of experimentation that makes the show fun to watch.
Even the famous transformations from Human to Kamen Rider where in it’s early stages. Sometimes it’s a simple cut from Hongo to Kamen Rider, other times they try simple drawings to represent transformations. Check it! (But stop the video after the 31 second mark, that second transformation is NOT a Kamen Rider.)
Despite all the the great visuals, the MAIN thing I love about this show is the charismatic performance from it’s lead, Hiroshi Fujioka. Fujioka is electric in this part. The role of Hongo as written isn’t really deep, but Fujioka brings all the right qualities to the role to make it memorable. He’s charming, boyish, yet ready to jump into battle with a daredevil smile. (Fun facts: Fujioka even sang the shows theme song AND was the one who was actually wearing the suit in the fight scenes)
His scenes as Hongo are what truly make the show. I wasn’t siting there waiting for him to turn into Kamen Rider, I was just as engaged with him even before he transforms. I actually LOVE it when Hongo is fighting Combatmen sans costume.
These first 8 episodes of the show are a marvel and joy to watch. If you can get behind the silliness, and cheapness and great amounts of “WTF?” moments, this is one of the best and pure super hero shows I’ve ever seen.
But, why do I keep saying only the first 8 episodes? Because sadly, while in production, Fujioka injured himself so badly that he couldn’t do the role for a really long time. They actually had to implement unused footage of him, voice over work to fill in episodes until they decided to recast the part, in which they created a NEW character to be Kamen Rider (but….that’s a story for another time.)
Eventually, Fujioka was well enough and he returned to the the show, and to be fair, the episodes with out him are still enjoyable and fun as hell.
Sadly…like I said with Kamen Rider Fourze, there is no official way to see this show in America. Unlike Ultraman, Kamen Rider didn’t get an English dub here. BUT, there are ways to see it. A quick search online and you can find the episodes streaming.
Now, if your still saying “Agent Justin, I’m not sure still…is there anything you can show me that can convince me this is worth seeking out? ”
Well…ok…personally, I think you should wait and watch all the episodes, but, if you just want me to show you the BEST sequence out of the whole eight episodes, fine. Now, this is unsubbed titled, but trust me, you don’t need it. Oh, and Kamen Rider does something in this sequence that I honestly WISH that Captain America did in the comics/movies.