Most people familiar with Japanese tokusatsu series are aware of the big three, Super Sentai, Ultraman and Kamen Rider, but there have been many other tokusatsu series on Japanese television over they years. One of the earliest, way back in 1972, was Kikaider. Created by Shotaro Ishinomori, it ran 43 episodes and spawned an anime series in 2000, plus two OVAs in 2003. But the series is still popular in Japan, which led them to reboot the concept in theaters in 2014.
Said to have taken two years to complete, Kikaider Reboot is a retelling of the original story with some new elements thrown in. So let’s jump into the action that is Kikaider Reboot and see how it goes.
In the undefined not so distant future, nuclear power has almost ruined humanity and the government and private business join forces to create the ultimate android, for reasons not at all explained. There are two models, Jiro, designed by Dr. Nobuhiko Kohmyoji and Mari, built by Professor Gilbert Kanzaki. Of the two, Jiro is weaker because he has a Conscience Circuit that keeps him from fighting at his full potential. When Kohmyoji is killed, he sets Jiro free to protect his children while the government seeks out all of Kohmyoji’s research which has been hidden on a chip and implanted into his young son Masaru. But they have a protector, Jiro, but can this imperfect android defeat the onslaught headed his way?
The movie has a lot of differences from the TV show, a lot of them to be expected. Whereas the big flashy transformation sequence is a staple of tokusatsu television, it’s entirely done away with here, Jiro just transforms without any real fanfare. There are no low-level goons to fight either, mostly due to a lack of time. Jiro fights two enemies, Mari, who defeats him soundly, and Hakaider, who defeats him soundly. Jiro gets his ass handed to him repeatedly throughout. Kikaider Reboot is also, as you might expect, a much darker story than thy made in 1972. It deals with what it is to be human and what it is to be imperfect and, as I said, Jiro gets the crap kicked out of him in pretty much every encounter because he’s hampered by his machine conscience. It’s only in the final battle after he disables his conscience that he finds he had the ability to win all along.
This is an action heavy movie, lots of fighting and the fight choreography is quite violent. There’s no blood, of course, since you’re talking about androids beating the crap out of each other, but at one point Jiro gets his arm ripped off. That said though, there are considerable stretches when not a whole lot happens. Kohmyoji’s children, Mitsuko and Masaru, spend a considerable amount of time bonding with Jiro, even though Mitsuko keeps saying he’s just a robot so it doesn’t matter what happens to him, she’s the one that comes to his aid in the end. But that end is where I find it problematic. Jiro would never disable his conscience and even though he did, it didn’t seem to change anything. So my question is, why did he do it and why did it make him stronger when it never affected his personality, his fighting style or anything else? And after he won, he was right back to normal… at least until he died. Yes, he dies in the end, with Mitsuko swearing to learn how to fix him and bring him back from the dead. Then you get Kyujiro Maeno, Kohmyoji’s mentor and partner, interestingly enough played by original Kikaider star Daisuke Ban, who starts off saying he’s a psychologist and knows nothing of robotics, yet not only repairs Jiro after his arm is ripped off, he seems to know all about Jiro’s internal workings. I’d be suspicious that there was more to the character if they ever gave any hints that there really was but he comes off as a clever cameo and a means to pass along background and nothing more.
The movie is beautifully done, the suits are fantastic, especially considering the low budget 70s look of the originals and even though it does have some significant pacing issues here and there, overall it works as a bigger budget film version of the original. The fights drag on a bit, which seems like a strange thing to say for a tokasatsu flick, but watching Jiro get his ass handed to him over and over and over gets kind of old and some of the road trip footage seems a little excessive, but if you want a good action movie with a nod to the past, Kikaider Reboot could be your ticket.