While researching this movie, I have come across a number of instances of it being compared to THE LEGEND OF THE LONE RANGER. Although it has been almost 30 years (oh God, really?) since I saw the American movie in a theater, that sounds like an apt comparison to me. Both were released in 1981. Both updated classic heroes. And both were box office disappointments with top-lining "stars" that faded into obscurity shortly afterward.
THE MOON MASK RIDER is the English-dubbed version of 月光仮面 (Gekko Kamen; "Moonlight Mask") from Nippon Herald. Thank goodness the copy I have is in English (from Greece, if you can believe it), because this movie would have been a total snoozefest otherwise. It's not difficult to understand its rejection by Japanese audiences. I think it would have been a hard sell even if the main hero had been brand-new. As an ostensible revamp of a beloved cultural icon, it falls even flatter. There are none of the familiar GEKKO KAMEN characters at all, and the considerable charm of 1950s-style Japanese heroes is only evident in brief flashes.
(Aside : Why is it called THE MOON MASK RIDER? Well, the hero definitely tools around on a motorcycle, so there's that. Most likely, it was Nippon Herald attempting to piggyback on the success of KAMEN RIDER. Were the Riders big enough outside of Japan in the 1980s for this to work? Seems like someone thought so.)
There are some narrative choices that I question in this film that drag it down. The "mystery" of the Moon Mask Rider's identity is not a bad idea, but the execution leaves something to be desired. I mean, if it's not going to be an ACTUAL mystery, why be coy about it? Mixing tongue-in-cheek elements in the same cinematic stew with a religious cult storyline inspired by Jonestown also feels like two diametrically-opposed ideas colliding violently. It leaves me unsure how I'm supposed to view the action. Is it serious? Is it funny? The movie itself doesn't even seem to know.
But by far the most maddening aspect of this movie is that it wastes the talents of Etsuko Shiomi. That's not unusual, to be fair, but this flick could have desperately used her skills to spice things up. As it stands, she does get to show off some of her abilities, but the movie is way more concerned with the "drama" of her character. IF things had played out differently, I might've been OK with this. The results are just a big ol' cheat.
There are some funny bits here and there in this movie, and Gekko Kamen/Moon Mask Rider cuts an exciting figure when he gets to be on-camera. And yes, any picture with Etsuko Shiomi will have some value. It's just that I really wanted to like this movie. I can't say I hate it, but it isn't something I'm going to have the urge to revisit anytime soon.