Fight for what's right

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 May, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 May, 2006, 12:00am

Kamen Rider - Japan's answer to US superheroes such as Batman, Spider-man and X-men -

will hit cinemas next week in celebration of its 35th anniversary.

The masked hero, created by the late manga artist Shotaro Ishinomo for a 1971 TV show, possesses the powers of insects such as crickets and grasshoppers.

The show was so popular that it spawned many sequels featuring Kamen Riders in different outfits.

The new film, Masked Rider The First, tells the story of the origin of the first Kamen Rider (aka Hopper). He is a young man named Hongo who is kidnapped by Shocker, a secret society

that brainwashes people and transforms them into merciless mutant killers.

Hongo eventually recovers his memory and takes on his evil creators.

Taking the mantle this time is Masaya Kikawada, a 26-year-old actor who starred in a TV comedy last year with Yuko Takeuchi (Be With You).

Kikawada said he wanted to give his character more human qualities so that he comes across as a tragic hero rather than a fighting machine.

'I see Hongo as a normal human being, only that it's not human blood that flows through his veins,' said Kikawada, speaking through an interpreter.

'The film is different from the [Kamen Rider] TV series because its story is very close to the original manga. It's more humane and portrays [Hongo] as a man who is burdened with tragic memories.'

Kikawada said he wouldn't want to be a Kamen Rider in reality, except perhaps for a day, just for the fun of it.

'A Kamen Rider can't reveal his true identity and can't even shake hands with people without worrying that he might break their arms. But the good thing is that I can use my powers to protect the people around me.'

To make Hopper more than just a one-dimensional action hero, the film features a romantic subplot in which Midorikawa, a magazine journalist whose fiance is murdered by a mutant, gradually accepts Hongo despite his mutation and falls in love with him.

In one of Kikawada's favourite scenes, Hopper - who is then still one of Shocker's pawns and is about to kill his victim - regains his sense of self. It starts to snow, and the beauty and innocence of the white snow mirrors Hopper's innate goodness.

'The scene portrays the transformation taking place deep inside Hopper. It's very emotional,' said Kikawada.

Hongo's change of heart and love for Midorikawa touches Ichimonji, another mutant who becomes Kamen Rider Number Two and joins hands with Hopper to rebel against Shocker.

The theme of innate goodness runs through the movie and is one of the reasons for the success of the Kamen Rider franchise, according to Kikawada.

'Many bizarre things happen in Japan nowadays, such as children murdering their fathers or parents killing their children. The line between good and evil is blurred and this is not a good social phenomenon,' said Kikawada.

'The story of Kamen Riders expresses something real in human nature. Its message - that the spirit of righteousness conquers all - is still meaningful to us 35 years after its creation.'

Masked Rider The First opens on May 25