Kamen Rider may not have the international recognition of Godzilla — yet. But Toei, whose first “Kamen Rider” live-action TV series aired in 1971, has announced an ambitious project for raising the profile of its motorbike-riding, insect-faced cyborg hero both at home and abroad on the franchise’s 50th anniversary.
Unveiled in April at a splashy live press conference in Tokyo, the project is headlined by a new film, “Shin Kamen Rider,” directed by Anno Hideaki, the creator of the Evangelion sci-fi franchise and the scriptwriter and co-director of the 2016 smash “Shin Godzilla.” Details about the film, including story and casting, are still sparse, though Toei has penciled in a March 2023 release date.
When Variety met project producer Shirakura Shin-chiro at Toei’s Tokyo headquarters, he reaffirmed that his aim was to make “entertainment that viewers can enjoy,” while “targeting a wide demographic.” This is hardly the first time Toei has courted the international market with its signature tokusatsu (live-action special effects) TV series and films. Starting in 1993 with the hit “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” show, a co-production with Saban Entertainment, Toei has made its formula of color-coded superheroes battling monstrous opponents into a worldwide phenomenon.
In 1995, Toei again joined forces with Saban to launch “Masked Rider,” an American version of the 1988 “Kamen Rider Black RX” TV series. Also, “Kamen Rider: Dragon Knight,” an adaptation of the “Kamen Rider Ryuki” series (2002-’03) developed in partnership with Adness Entertainment, aired on the CW Network from 2008 to 2009. “We are trying to sell ‘Kamen Rider’ to not only the United States but also to the world. And like the Power Rangers shows in the past we are doing it mostly with live-action contents,” Shirakura says. The one exception is “Fuuto PI,” Toei’s first Kamen Rider animated TV series, which is set for a spring 2022 bow in Japan, with franchise veteran Tsukada Hideaki serving as producer. The international rollout is scheduled to start in the summer of the same year. Sony-owed streamer Funimation will distribute the show in North America.
“We’re not aiming at children,” Shirakura says. “The show is targeting older teenagers and young adults.” The third part of the project is “Kamen Rider Black Sun,” a reboot of the hit “Kamen Rider Black” series originally broadcast in 1987-’88. The new series will be directed by Shiraishi Kazuya for a summer 2022 start. Toei, says Shirakura, does not expect Shiraishi to turn in a typical tokusatsu show: “Since he’s Shiraishi Kazuya, I expect that it will have the flavor of the sort of films he makes. It will be a new type of superhero show that adults can watch with a straight face. It’s like Christopher Nolan with ‘The Dark Knight’ — he could make a Batman film that way because he’s Christopher Nolan. I’m sure ‘Kamen Rider’ as viewed by Shiraishi will also be something completely different since he’s directing all the episodes.” The show will use CG not possible when “Kamen Rider Black” was first broadcast in the 1980s, but the foundation of the show, says Shirakura, “will be the performances of its human cast.” “We then layer stunts and CG onto the human performances,” he adds. “Shirashi doesn’t want characters who are pure CG creations.
“ ‘Kamen Rider Black’ was an extremely popular TV series not only domestically but also internationally. It was remade by Saban as ‘Masked Rider’ and aired in 1995, but unfortunately it got bad reviews and was a flop. Now we’re getting our payback,” he says with a smile.
One model for the project is the Marvel Universe, which has expanded over a range of platforms over decades.
“Toei takes pride in its live-action, which doesn’t come from manga and doesn’t come from animation,” Shirakura continues. “We want Kamen Rider to be better known by people all over the world using any means necessary, be it Anno’s ‘Shin Kamen Rider’ movie or Shiraishi’s ‘Kamen Rider Black’ or Tsukada’s animation.” Batman better move over — another motor-powered hero will be coming to a screen near you.