Thursday, January 13, 2011

In short: Kamen Rider J (1994)

Environmentalist photographer Kouji (Yuuta Mochizuki) has come to some unnamed place in the Japanese countryside to document (and presumably identify the reason for) the mass-dying of local animals. He meets an adorable little girl (Yuka Nomura) there, who seems at once quite taken with her new big brother figure.

But all too soon the reason for all those dying animals becomes clear - a bio-mechanical (and quite despicable) life-form known as Fog Mother has come to Earth to repeat with us what she did with the dinosaurs once. The time for her attack has almost come, she just needs to wait a little for her spawn to hatch. Then, it will the all-night Earth buffet can open. Oh, and of course, Fog Mother's children need some wake-up food. That's what adorable little girls are for, right?

So Fog Mother's hench-creatures kidnap the girl and push Kouji down a mountain. It doesn't look good for humanity or the future of adorable little girl-dom. Fortunately, some…people with roots deep underground (I'm not talking figuratively) revive Kouji and turn him into a new version of everyone's favourite insect-themed superhero on a motorbike, Kamen Rider J. And give him an incredibly creepy looking talking grasshopper as a guide.

With the help of his new powers of ecological motorbike riding and kicking monsters in the face, Kouji will have to conquer Fog Mother's trio of favourite monsters, free his little-sister-in-spirit, and do an unexpected Ultraman on Fog Mother's fortress.

This is another entry in my irregular and untitled series of write-ups on the body of work of Japanese creature designer and tokusatsu director Keita Amemiya. This time around, I've stumbled onto one of Amemiya's few contributions to Toei's humungous Kamen Rider mythos in form of a forty-five minute feature film (to be shown as part of a double feature), that were the franchises main outlets in this phase when there weren't any TV shows featuring the Rider. It's the director's last contribution to Kamen Rider as far as I understand.

Amemiya's talent for working with filmic shorthand without losing coherence makes him quite a good fit for this sort of low budget movie special. What there is of characterization is broad but effective enough to motivate the plot (and it's not as if anyone would ask the two human characters what the want anyway), and the plot in its turn is just present enough to make the series of fights and the monster design feel like part of a whole.

Speaking of monster design (very obviously at least in part also done by Amemiya), Kamen Rider J tends as far to the freakish side of tokusatsu monstrosities as possible in what is at its heart a franchise for kids. It's as if H.R. Giger had developed a sudden interest in classic Japanese art and decided to bio-punk that tradition up a bit, with the expected consequences.

As a whole, Kamen Rider J delivers exactly the thrills it promises, and is sure to put a smile on the face of everyone who is even faintly predisposed to like stuff like this.


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