Well that was a pretty awesome movie! All things said, given its time frame, it could have been a lot worse than it actually was. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect, but it was a very enjoyable movie to watch. Of the three major Kamen Rider productions in the 90s, Kamen Rider ZO is undoubtedly my favorite. I think it might actually be one of my favorite Kamen Rider movies out there, it’s one I can rewatch time and again and never find it any less enjoyable than the previous time. (I watched it a couple of times just for this review)
I think there was a lot of expectation on ZO. Though Shin was the first production of the 90s for Kamen Rider, it was a markedly different beast than any of its predecessors. ZO, despite its claims of tearing down Kamen Rider to its base feels very much like the next step in the evolution of Rider. I think this is actually an important link between the Shouwa era shows and the sort of thing that the Heisei era shows have managed to produce. The story here isn’t super deep, but visually it does look amazing. This is the sort of visual presentation that would carry on and really set Kamen Rider apart from various other tokusatsu in the years to come. When you look at ZO you can’t help but feel that this is a movie, not just a cash in production. Even though that story isn’t great, it isn’t bad, and it feels like ZO was able to deliver upon those expectations placed upon it.
More than Shin and more than J, this is the movie that makes me feel bad we’ll never get to know what a full length Kamen Rider series in the 90s would have looked like. This feels outwardly dark while still feeling it’s a show about a hero trying to do the right thing, even after he’s lost his own humanity. Like I said earlier, when I look at a lot of so called reconstructions of different superhero properties to make them dark and “realistic”, I feel like they really miss the mark. Here we have a movie that feels like it can do both at the same time and really excel in both of those areas. You really have to give credit to the two main forces in this movie, writer Noboru Sugimura and director Keita Amemiya for delivering a unique take on Kamen Rider.
The script isn’t the greatest thing out there, it is very by the books, but mix that with Amemiya’s directing and visual style and you have two opposite ends of the spectrum crashing full force into each other, Sugimura, known for writing Zyuranger, Dairanger, and Kakuranger, is great at creating heroic main characters. He even manages to play around with certain elements of darkness while still not forgetting that these guys are supposed to be heroes in the end and overcome any challenges that are thrown their way. Sugimura’s classic writing style coupled with Amemiya’s directing creates something that both moves forward but doesn’t forget the core of what this franchise is supposed to be about. Despite all the praise he gets for GARO, I’m actually not a fan of Amemiya on those shows. This is the only time you’re likely to see me enthusiastic about a production with the name Keita Amemiya attached to it. He’s a great visual designer and can definitely set the tone for a scene, but you never feel like you get to know his characters all that well. When he’s in charge of creating characters, they sort of just seem…there, like you can’t do much with them. Giving Sugimura script duties here makes what could have been an otherwise pretty to look at but stale movie become a great entry into its family.
I think the best movies are the ones that feel complete, but at the same time they leave you wanting more. You want to see where these characters are going next and that’s true enough for me when I think about Masaru. This guy doesn’t get a ton of back story, but he feels like a hero, like someone to look up to and cheer for. Given that there were only 45ish (48 with credits) minutes to play around with here, ZO managed to create a great world and set of characters. Even Hiroshi isn’t terribly annoying and I’m generally not fond of kids in tokusatsu. The kid didn’t have the best actor, but you can feel for what his character is going through. Isako Saski, known for singing the Goranger opening theme, among others, plays a great professor Mochizuki here. You feel like this guy is absolutely crazy because all we have to go on for the longest times are flashbacks and hintings that his monsters are the ones that are after Hiroshi, but when you learn the truth, you can see that he isn’t the world’s worst father. Sasaki, though, man, he plays a pitch perfect mad scientist. Ichirou Mizuki was great in his role on Spielban and Sasaki is great here, maybe Toei should think about hiring out more singers for their productions?
So all in all, ZO is a great movie and stands out above the the rest of the 90s Riders. If you haven’t seen it now, I suggest you do so, even though I ran down the events of the movie, Amemiya’s visual style will breath new life into it. But we’re still not done with ZO, for you see, this wasn’t his only adventure…