Anno’s take on Kamen Rider plays out like a loving, idiosyncratic deconstruction of Kamen Rider, a wayward young hero who defends the world from the villainous SHOCKER organization and their various animal-men cyborgs. In “Shin Kamen Rider,” Hongo sets out on his anti-SHOCKER crusade after he reluctantly (and gruesomely) beats up a group of beret-clad SHOCKER heavies and a spider-robot (Nao Omori), too.
Hongo is then debriefed by icy monster-hunter Ruriko (Minami Hamabe) and her dad, Dr. Midorikawa (“Tetsuo: The Iron Man” director Shinya Tsukamoto), a disenchanted robot-building scientist. Basically, Dr. Midorikawa used to make insect-men for SHOCKER, but then turned against them, and also experimented on Hongo to give him the super-powers needed to defeat SHOCKER. Dr. Midorikawa dies pretty early on; he’s the first of a few characters who, when they croak, dissolves into a man-shaped silhouette of seafoam bubbles. After he melts away into nothingness, Ruriko and Hongo set out on their journey to destroy SHOCKER, with some help from a pair of mysterious government agents, Taki and Tachibana (Takumi Saitoh and Yutaka Takenouchi).
A good part of “Shin Kamen Rider” concerns Hongo’s struggle to serve others without betraying his conscience. He struggles with his computer-programmed survival instincts, which tend to be brutal. But each new insect-themed adversary re-orients both Ruriko and Hongo’s relationship to their shared mission so that it’s a more personal fight: the final boss antagonist is ultimately Ruriko’s megalomaniacal brother Ichiro (Mirai Moriyama), a butterfly-monster and the leader of SHOCKER.
Anno also frustrates and re-orients the viewers’ relationship with what were always childishly simple characters. He periodically shoves his camera into actors’ faces or beneath their legs, cuts just ahead of the action, and blows up several key images so that any featured actor’s face is more prominent than their characters’ bright and garish outfits. This potentially off-putting style still effectively dramatizes Hongo and his allies’ adrenaline-fueled disorientation. Anno also catches viewers up as we go, slowing down the action and the dramatic momentum just enough to make even a fight with a half-praying-mantis, half-chameleon monster (Kanata Hongo) seem affecting.
Some viewers might be distracted by the movie’s stop-and-go pacing, unsophisticated action choreography, and unglamorous, low-resolution special effects. Maybe, but so what? Anno’s take resonates because it shares the experimental spirit and naïve angst—Who am I, and how do I hold onto myself in a group united by a common goal?—both prior “Shin” reboots and both Anno’s original “Neon Genesis Evangelion” series and its recent “Rebuild” remakes of that oft-copied anime. Many people will come to “Shin Kamen Rider” expecting a movie by Hideaki Anno; they won’t be disappointed.