On April 3rd, 2021, Toei hosted a press conference to announce three new projects commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Kamen Rider. First up was Fuuto PI, an anime follow-up to Kamen Rider Double . That news was followed by the announcement of Kamen Rider Black Sun, a reimagining of the classic Kamen Rider Black . While these new projects were exciting for fans, Toei saved the biggest announcement for last.
Chief producer Shinichiro Shirakura stepped out to announce the crowning jewel of the anniversary celebrations: Hideaki Anno’s Shin Kamen Rider, set to shine on the silver screen in 2023. “Shin Kamen Rider,” though? That might sound familiar. Anno’s newest film isn’t the first Shin Kamen Rider that Shirakura has had a part in producing. To dive a bit deeper into that curiosity, let’s look back to Kamen Rider’s 20th anniversary and the story of an ambitious V-Cinema film called Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue.
In 1990, both the Showa Era and Kamen Rider Black RX had been freshly wrapped. Series creator and legendary manga artist, Shotaro Ishinomori1 achieved his goal of taking things back to basics with Kamen Rider Black2. Though Black touched on the main conceit of the hero, Ishinomori felt that there was more to scratch at. He wanted to explore the rawest possible image of a hero who fights for humanity despite being just as terrifying as those who wish to harm it. Those in charge at Toei were interested in the idea and decided to make it the basis of a 20th Anniversary V-Cinema film.
Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue followed Shin Kazematsuri, a professional motorcycle racer who has put his aspirations on hold to be the lead test subject in his father’s gene therapy experiments. He soon dreams of murders he fears he has committed. Shin’s investigation into the shadowy organization funding the experiments leads him to cross paths with the CIA, cyborg hitmen, and the monster sleeping within him.
Before we go further, what exactly was V-Cinema? The label referred to Toei’s line of direct-to-video film releases. In the late 80’s, Toei took notice of the popularity and profitability of anime OVAs, and, hoping to apply that template to live-action productions, they opened the doors to young creatives hungry for any work they could get.
The modus operandi for these films was simple: little plot, a lot of action, and softcore shenanigans. The first V-Cinema release, Crime Hunter , established the framework with yakuza flicks before allowing the teams behind these films to get weird and experimental. Those not-quite-mainstream sensibilities led to V-Cinema films being screened at film festivals across the globe, giving rise to a unique crop of directors and actors; Takashi Miike standing at the top of the heap. Aside from the cinematic notability of Miike, V-Cinema releases brought in money hand over fist. Other production companies took notice and many of Toei’s competitors soon launched their own direct-to-video labels.
With that kind of money coming in, the higher-ups thought this was the best course of action to realize Ishinomori’s vision while making some sweet moolah. The format, as expected, led them towards a more “adult” approach. Their rationale being, “If Kamen Rider is going to be 20 years old, it’s safe to say he’s reached adulthood”3. An artistic factor in the decision was Lady Battle Cop , a tokusatsu V-Cinema release that pushed the boundaries with its suit and effects work. If Lady Battle Cop could pull it off with stellar results, how would it turn out if they did it with Rider?4
Production pitches & Future Plans
The production team had roughly two years to refine their ideas and get into production. Unsurprisingly, this was a bit more lead time than most V-Cinema productions were afforded, as they were typically shot and cut as fast as possible. That extra time had more do with a technicality than anything else, as Bandai pushed for Shin to be released in 1992 so as not to conflict with Ultraman’s 25th anniversary in 1991.5. The film wasn’t released exactly on the hero’s 20th, but close enough. Decades later a similar situation befell Anno’s Shin Kamen Rider. Not due to Ultraman, but instead the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
This extra time allowed for the development of some other experimental production concepts outside the “fleshy disaster” path that the film would eventually take. One that comes up most often in interviews and articles regarding the film is a pitch not dissimilar to the superhero comedy Kick-Ass. In this abandoned pitch for Shin Kamen Rider, an adult fan of the series was to have found himself dressing up as the titular hero at night to fight crime. Shirakura was firmly against the idea, so it was shelved6. Coincidentally, Takashi Miike later used that same idea in his film Zebraman  and Takahiro Omori did something similar with the now-defunct Studio Manglobe in Samurai Flamenco .
With cosplay hero ideas out of their system, Ishinomori wanted to lay some groundwork for the future of the Shin they were going with. The film was given the subtitle “Prologue,” signaling that it was to be the first part of a series of films. Prologue would introduce the character of Shin with potentially an additional three to five episodes to follow7. These later episodes would see Shin finding a proper motorcycle along with battle armor to both hide and protect his horrifying visage8. That vision didn’t pan out9, but that’s getting a little ahead of ourselves.
A Crew assembles
While Ishinomori laid out the concept, there was a team right behind him to realize it. This team’s collective experience spanned most of Toei’s catalog up to that point, but most of the common ties between staffers included the aforementioned Lady Battle Cop, Kamen Rider Black, and the Metal Hero Series10. Executive producing the film was Bandai’s Katsushi Murakami, mecha designer and father of Chogokin. He had been a key voice in the decision to give Black RX a car. Producing underneath him were Shin Unozawa11, Nagafumi Hori12, Satoshi Kubo13, and Shinichiro Shirakura. Planning the project was Metal Hero creator Susumu Yoshikawa.
Screenwriter Junichi Miyashita14 wrote the film with Ishinomori’s son, actor Joe Onodera. Interestingly, the only other time Onodera would contribute to a screenplay was for the OVA conclusion of Cyborg 009: The Cyborg Soldier , where he worked off his father’s idea with another writer.
Makoto Tsuji15 directed the film with Osamu Kaneda16 and Japan Action Club’s Kazuyoshi Yamada17 handling the action direction. Directing the special effects was, Nabuo Yajima, dubbed the “Don of Tokusatsu.” Yajima has worked on most of Toei’s tokusatsu productions since their inception. The staff of his Tokusatsu Research Institute worked underneath him on the production, focusing primarily on the film’s explosions and pyrotechnics.
On the fleshier side of the effects work, production looked to Keita Amemiya18. He was tasked with designing the suited characters along with working out the skin-crawling transformation. Assisting him was sculptor Takayuki Takeya19 work on getting a grasshopper puppet to burst through a man’s face. Yasushi Nirasawa20, Masato Takahashi and Makoto Nakahara assisted them with their unsettling work. The character designs were passed off to tokusatsu prop house Rainbow to be built as suits. Scoring the movie was Ryudo Uzaki21, Kaoru Wada22, Takefumi Haketa23, and Yoshihiro Matsuura. Uzaki additionally composed the theme song “Forever” performed by actress and singer Noriko Watanabe.
With the creative crew in order, who was in front of the camera? Leading the cast was Shin Ishikawa as tragic hero Shin Kazematsuri. Ishikawa’s given name also being Shin was not a coincidence, as he took it as his stage name following the film. In interviews, he’s mentioned that his birth name, Katsuhisa, is a bit hard to read24. Ishikawa has also said he was in a bit of a panic to get his motorcycle license after booking the role as he didn’t have one prior to being cast. Following Shin Kamen Rider, he was no stranger to tokusatsu, appearing in Ultraman Mebius as Ultraman Hikari’s host, Kazuya Serizawa. Sharing the role with Ishikawa was veteran suit actor Jiro Okamoto, who portrayed Shin when transformed. Okamoto is best known for his suit portrayal of Kamen Rider Black. It’s worth noting series-creator Ishinomori can be seen in a cameo at the beginning of the film as a spy looking to steal information regarding the experiment that leads Shin to his tragic fate.
Not kids’ stuff
Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue was released on VHS and Laserdisc in Japan on February 20th, 1992. The initial reaction to the film was varied, though two things remained consistent in the stories of people who saw it.
One, the transformation scene scarred many children who probably shouldn’t have been watching. Shin’s transformation into his monstrous grasshopper form was equal parts American Werewolf in London and The Fly with a dash of Amemiya’s sensibilities for the grotesque. It’s truly an amazing feat of special effects on that scale. The close-up shots of Shin’s heart and his face splitting apart were both unsettling and upsetting, his face splitting open into an awful grasshopper isn’t too pleasing, either.
Two, the nudity. There’s a strange nude swimming implied sex scene in the film that results in an oddly cute mutant baby. Though seemingly out of place for a kids series like Kamen Rider, this scene was par for the course for a V-Cinema Film.
Shin seemed to do fine sales, but for one reason or another they scrapped the rest of the project in favor of the all-time Rider classic, Kamen Rider ZO25. Honestly, that was the right call. ZO was a master class in short and sweet tokusatsu films. Its successor, Kamen Rider J, followed that same template, leading to what Japanese fans refer to as the “Neo Rider trilogy.” Not quite Showa, but not quite Heisei, regardless of the era they were produced in.
So, where’s Shin been for the last 20 years? He’s been kind of an outlier. After Heisei Kamen Rider Phase One’s26 hesitancy to connect shows in any form of continuity, Shin popped up in 2009’s Kamen Rider Decade: All Riders vs Dai Shocker. In the promotional net-movies for All Riders, Shin is portrayed as this odd fleshy guy who is depressed that Toei will never take him further than his prologue. He looked quite out of place from the rest of the pack in large group shots, but he only stands out more with Heisei Kamen Rider Phase Two27 designs that became more toyetic as more giant cross-over movies were produced.
With each progressive on-screen appearance, the Shin suit has been shown to be seriously falling apart. As seen in photos from recent stage show events, cracks in the suit’s rubber continue to grow. At this point, the suit may be unwearable as it was a scarecrow in 2021’s Super Hero Senki. Oriented so his head pops out of the crowd, mostly obscured by the heroes in front of him.
With Anno taking the Shin name to be consistent with his other films, where does this leave Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue? It’s an odd little film with strange nudity, horrifying transformations, and a dude getting his spine ripped out. The bits around that make for a mediocre melodrama. However, the film deserves credit for laying down the special effects groundwork that successive works would follow. If you’re curious and want to see it for yourself, Shin Kamen Rider: Prologue is available for free on Toei’s Youtube channel.
- The trailblazing Father of Kamen Rider, Super Sentai, and Cyborg 009 among numerous other works.
- Source: Kamen Rider BLACK RX Super Complete Works Complete Edition. August 1992, pg.101.
- Source: ODF 48. 2009 , pg. 31-32. (The age of adulthood in Japan is culturally considered to be 20, hence the rationale)
- Source: The Genealogy of Kamen Rider Evil (Shocker). May 2003, pg.171
- Source: Asahi Shimbun. February 20, 1992 morning edition
- Source: Chuokoron. August 2012 issue, pg. 60-61.
- Source: Showa Kamen Rider Retsuden HYPER MOOK. 2013, pg. 99.
- Source: Hero File Kamen Rider Series (Showa) Revived! Ishinomori Hero File. 2013, pg. 32
- Though for what it’s worth, the old idea of Shin getting battle armor was revisited in the short story “The Beginning of the End, The End of the Beginning” for 2013’s SIC HERO SAGA MOOK Vol. 4. With Takayuki Takeya sculpting the dioramas that assist in telling the story.
- A tokusatsu TV show series from the ’80s and ’90s that ran adjacent to Super Sentai.
- While he didn’t go on to produce any more tokusatsu, the mecha crowd should be familiar with some of Shin’s work, including OVAs like Mobile Police Patlabor  and Giant Robo: The Day the Earth Stood Still .
- Seasoned Super Sentai director, having helmed Dynaman  through Changeman . He served as a producer Kamen Rider Black, Black RX, Jiban, and Lady Battle Cop.
- The only other tokusatsu work Kubo produced was Cutie Honey THE LIVE , as he’s mostly known for his work on the Mobile Suit Gundam franchise, including entries such as The 08th MS Team and MS IGLOO.
- Miyashita primarily worked in TV, serving as the main writer on Kamen Rider Black and a large chunk of the Metal Hero series. In the anime sphere, he contributed to the second season of Cat’s Eye, Lupin the Third Part 3, and Detective Conan. Most recently he’s contributed to the third season of Kingdom.
- A director on Kamen Rider Black, Dai Sentai Goggle Five, and Juspion, Tsuji would later work with Capcom on a few games including Onimusha 2 and Resident Evil Zero.
- Notable for his directing on Juuko B-Fighter and Kamen Rider Kuuga, Kaneda continues to be a major fixture of Toei’s director stable, helming many of their tokusatsu productions over the last 30 years.
- Notable action direction credits included Sun Vulcan, Gavan, and Kamen Rider Black.
- Amemiya is a tokusatsu legend in his own right, having created Zeiram, Mikazuki, and GARO to name a few. Contributed heavily to tokusatsu works of the ’80s and ’90s, including Super Sentai, Rider, and the Metal Hero Series.
- Often considered to be Amemiya’s right-hand man, Takeya is an accomplished sculptor and monster designer with an unmistakable style. His sculpting has seen been seen in garage kits and mass production figures lines like Bandai’s Super Imaginative Chogokin or “S.I.C.” That sculpting also appeared on the set, as he was a modeler on Amemiya’s Zeiram and Mirai Ninja. He later worked with Hideaki Anno and Shinji Higuchi on the design of Shin Godzilla.
- Nirasawa was best known for his monster design work, appearing in the likes of Kamen Rider Blade, Kamen Rider Den-O, and GARO in collaboration with Amemiya. Zimmerit readers may recognize the name from his miniature work on Dragon’s Heaven.
- Composer on Queen Millennia, Dagger of Kamui, and Kamen Rider Black
- Composer on 3×3 Eyes, Inuyasha, Casshern Sins
- Composer on the ’90s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon, Vampire Knight, and multiple NHK Documentaries
- Source: SFX Newtype. December 2006.
- Source: The Genealogy of Kamen Rider Evil (Shocker). May 2003, pg.171
- The fan and later official term for the first 10 Heisei Kamen Rider Series, starting with Kamen Rider Kuuga and ending with Kamen Rider Decade.
- The phrase describes the next round of 10 Heisei Kamen Rider Series, starting with Kamen Rider Double and ending with Kamen Rider Zio.