Friday, March 13, 2009

Toei Tokusatsu Hero Box - Disc 2

(Yes, these again! The series continues!)

While it wasn't the trailblazer when it came to starting the 1970s Japanese hero boom, KAMEN RIDER was definitely the spark that made it explode. All the proof you need is the slate of featurettes on this disc. Not one of them features the Riders (though some trailers with them are included), but their scarf-wearing presence is looming in the background at every turn.

HENSHIN NINJA ARASHI kicks things off, and the best way I can explain it is by calling it a Kamen Rider period piece. There is a very distinct feeling that this is what a Rider show would be like as a chanbara. That is counterbalanced by the unfortunate resemblance the titular character bears to a big chicken. I am told he's supposed to be a hawk, but I'll be darned if he doesn't look like a chicken man to me. So the costume is a bit of a problem, though not an insurmountable one. It just makes me wonder if an alternate title for the series could have been "The Ninja Chicken Emergency".

Kidding aside, ARASHI is by no means a bad show. It is overshadowed a great deal by P Productions' twin LION MARU series, but that's more of a reflection of their influence rather than any deficiencies in ARASHI. While jidai geki Kamen Rider isn't my cup of tea, that doesn't mean it can't be fun.

Takao Saito's creation CHOJIN BAROM-1 might as well be called NOT KAMEN RIDER BUT ALMOST during the phase of the series reflected in its film. The hero resembles a Rider. He drives a fancy car instead of a motorcycle. His kaijin are very Shocker-esque. Even the music recalls KAMEN RIDER! BAROM-1 has its own peculiar twist on things, including the surprising secret of the hero's true identity. It's just that if Toei hadn't made the show, it might have been legally actionable. It changed as it progressed, with some seriously loopy monsters, so perhaps even the people involved felt a desire to do something different.

ROBOT KEIJI, about a robot who dresses in people clothes and works as a detective of sorts, is one of the more oddly constructed featurettes I have ever seen. It's not a narrative, but rather a highlight film from the beginning of the ROBOT KEIJI series! This fact came crashing home when the narrator informed me that the character who had just appeared on-screen was played by "Chiba Shinichi" (Sonny Chiba), the brother of series co-star Jiro Chiba. Excuse me? It's a jarring and not entirely satisfying way to watch one of these play out, but you get to see plenty of robot fighting action as a result.

KIKAIDER 01 is a cropped 35 mm blow-up of the shot on 16 mm first episode of the series. So it should be relatively easy to follow, right? Well, this show sort of hits the ground running, and there's a lot of inexplicable stuff in the movie as a consequence. The completely unnecessary Hanpei Hattori stand-in dude who ended up being dropped from the show for adding nothing is a good example of that. Still, it's a strong start for the show, and KIKAIDER was probably the biggest success of the similar shows launched in the wake of the KAMEN RIDER franchise. Its sequel didn't quite match that peak, but it has many virtues in its own right.

INAZUMAN FLASH is another "blow-up", and it strikes me as an odd choice considering that our hero is barely in his heroic guise in this episode! FLASH is the sequel/continuation (take your pick) of INAZUMAN and not as quirky as that series was. Actually, this whole thing feels pretty bleak and a little bit of a downer for a kids festival entry. I wonder why they did that?

I'm looking over what I've just written here, and I almost feel like I should apologize. I like Japanese superheroes, really! I even like all of these series to varying degrees. But there's no question that the Riders were king at Toei during this period, and it is reflected in the fact that all of their movies are more memorable than these.

Tune in for Disc 3 coverage (whenever I get around to it) when we discuss the longest running tokusatsu series of the 1970s.

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