Media Blasters // 2005 // 90 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Chief Counsel Rob Lineberger (Retired) // July 27th, 2007
A hero born of loss will clear the path to justice.
Shotaro Ishinomori's manga has spawned several beloved and enduring stories that have crossed from the printed page into anime and live action. Thanks to Ishinomori's imagination we have Cyborg 009 and Android Kikaider in addition to his most popular work, Kamen Rider. In this story, a cybernetic grasshopper/motorcyclist battles an evil organization known as Shocker. The mixture of camp and darkly humorous action made it wildly popular.
Some of Ishinomori's creative talents may lie within this live-action adaptation of Kamen Rider, but they are buried so throroughly as to be unrecognizable. A supposed reboot in the vein of Batman Begins and Casino Royale, Masked Rider: The First is an updated take on the material that purports to return the story to its roots.
The result is a vapid dusting of lip gloss without the lips. Takao Nagaishi relies on familiarity with the story as a substitute for plot development. No major theme or subplot is actually concluded in Masked Rider: The First, though many are begun. Some of these subplots are welcome throwbacks that will entertain longtime fans, while many are inexplicable forays into left field. Among the latter are blood transfusions, secret cyborg hospitals, and the wholesale dumbing-down of Shocker (the evil organization bent on world domination.)
The resulting mishmash of half-baked homage is unintelligible to newcomers. Two "hoppers" fight each other, then bond, then fight separately, then betray one another just before uniting in a final Battle Royale (or at least, Junior Battle with Cheese). Their shifting loyalties mean nothing; mere footnotes to actual emotion or depth. There is a girl who consumes entirely too much of the run time to be so nondescript and a scantly choreographed motorbike race/fight scene/exhibition. The only compelling, absorbable plotline is about two invalids who fall for each other in the aforementioned secret hospital and presumably (if you are paying very close attention) return as the main baddies at the end.
The best way I can describe this effort is "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and Days of Our Lives meet a giant food processor." Masked Rider: The First has the cornball villains and costumes of Power Rangers but the earnest melodrama of a soap. It lacks a critical sense of humor while also lacking gravity. The result should be funny but is not; it wants to be serious, but is not. The movie would improve dramatically if Nagaishi had seen even one plot line through to the end or taken time to establish anything. Then we'd have a glorious return the roots of Kamen Rider instead of a loosely connected string of imagery and guys in foam rubber suits bouncing around. If you really, really love Japanese kitsch, are desperate for a fix, and have lax standards, Masked Rider: The First might be an entertaining trifle to help you while away a couple of hours.
The extras include a couple of promotional items and a making-of featurette that takes the feature far too seriously. It is an hour and three minutes of raw footage from the set, void of editing save for descriptive titles. I can't imagine anyone actually watching the whole thing.
Masked Rider is hereby guilty of impersonating Kamen Rider.
Review content copyright © 2007 Rob Lineberger; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Media Blasters
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Japanese)
Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Making of Featurette
* TV Spot