Fantasia Film Festival 2023 reviews: Shin Kamen Rider and Stay Online

Still images from Stay Online and Shin Kamen Rider.
Still images from Stay Online and Shin Kamen Rider. Pic credit: Fantasia/Konstantin Ponomaryov

We begin with two unique films in entirely different genres to kick off our Fantasia Film Festival review coverage.

The first is a reimagining of a classic Japanese character known as Shin Kamen Rider.

Our second movie is an innovative war thriller, all told through the guise of a computer screen. That film, titled Stay Online, is a movie based on the setting of the invasion of Ukraine.

One offers wild, ridiculous, over-the-top thrills, and the other might be one of the essential films that might spark discussion.

It’s a great way to kick off coverage at Fantasia Film Festival, so let’s get to it.

Here are our reviews of Shin Kamen Rider and Stay Online.

Shin Kamen Rider review

Shin Kamen Rider (or Shin Masked Rider) is another outing in the saga of shin movies, the previous two being Shin Godzilla and Shin Ultraman. The latest Shin is an entirely new beast (or insect). Director Hideaki Anno goes full bananas with his latest film, crafting a movie that might be the closest experience to watching a live-action anime this reviewer has seen.

While watching, one might say, “This is Power Rangers but bloody.” Well, the property is from the mind of Shotaro Ishinomori, who made Super Sentai, which was “morphed” into Power Rangers in the U.S. Anno honors the vision of Ishinomori and infuses these silly stylish ideas from the old shows, but it’s nevertheless glorious.

Image from Shin Kamen Rider
Image from Shin Kamen Rider. Pic credit: Fantasia

The film wastes no time and throws us right into the mayhem. Kamen Rider is on the run on his supercharged motorcycle, running from the organization known as Shocker. Soon after, he fights off the soldiers in a bloody fashion. Heads pop like balloons, and blood sprays authentically like it’s Kool-aid, but helmets hide the skull-crushing mayhem.

The masked rider is Takeshi Hongo (Sôsuke Ikematsu), who signed up for a program to alter himself. The details of his new powers are explained to him by a scientist named Professor Hiroshi Midorikawa (Shin’ya Tsukamoto) and his daughter Ruriko (Minami Hamabe). The masked rider Hongo is a human-insect soldier augment (a Grasshopper-aug), a job Midorikawa no longer performs for Shocker, making man and woman-bug hybrid soldiers for the corrupt organization.

Ruriko and Takeshi then get thrown into several encounters that play like an arcade fighting game where each boss gets increasingly difficult until reaching the final boss. The fight scenes are frantic in the edit, with quick cutaways. One of these cuts is the familiar Power Rangers flyover, where a character will execute baffling acrobatics as the camera visualizes the stunt from a low angle.

The cinematography by Osamu Ichikawa and Keizô Suzuki is photographed similarly to Shin Godzilla. The film has coloring with yellow and green textures to the visuals. One scene, in particular, seems to incorporate stop motion within the super scenes, such as Kamen Rider fighting while jumping across rooftops. Much like an actor wearing a Godzilla costume, the eye understands it’s artificial, but the execution adds personality.

Hideaki Anno’s sensibilities here are more absurd than usual, but the Neon Genesis Evangelion storyteller knows when to inject sentimental moments with the cartoonish atmosphere. The characters are thrown at the viewer fast, and then from nowhere, Anno takes a breath to dig into the core of the characters, mainly between Takeshi and Ruriko.

Having never seen the original Kamen Rider property, it’s hard to measure how faithful it is. The flavor will hit differently compared to Godzilla and Ultraman. There are no bureaucratic narratives that make the experience feel grounded. But this is a movie that brings life to Fantasa Fest. Shin Kamen Rider is a delightfully silly action film that is equally absurd and sincere—a solid addition to a genre festival.

Stay Online review

Screenlife is a format that can be strangely immersive. As disconnected as society has become, technology (phones, computers, social media) is a necessary evil in some ways, connecting us when we are most vulnerable. Searching and Missing utilized the format to significant impact. Host (2020) did the same with an intense horror movie based around a Zoom call during the pandemic.

Stay Online offers a surprising new genre for the screenlife archive. Screenlife, for those unfamiliar, is a movie narrative that takes place entirely on a computer screen. The new film offers a fictional war story in this format about survival and connection amidst the horrifying war in Ukraine. The result is a surprisingly cathartic screenlife experiment that is overflowing with inspiration.

Image from Stay Online.
Image from Stay Online. Pic credit: Konstantin Ponomaryov

Directed by Yeva Strelnikova and written by Yeva Strelnikova and Anton Skrypets, the Screenlife movie centers on Katya or Kate (Liza Zaitseva), a Ukranian survivor contacting everyone she knows from within an apartment using a donated laptop.

When we first meet Katya, she is tired and hopeless with the violence around her. Katya’s friends urge her to join the team to find survivors, but she hesitates. Katya has three frequent contacts, her mother, Vitya, and Ryan. Katya’s friend Ryan is a volunteer who helps recover survivors and fight Russians. And her Uncle and brother Vitya serve as soldiers in the Ukraine military.

The laptop Katya inherits remains logged in to the previous owner’s accounts–including Facebook, Telegram, etc. Because of this, a random kid begins calling on Telegram. The child named Sava seeks to find his parents. After a few endearing interactions with the boy, Katya finds purpose. She soon embarks on a mission to find Sava’s parents.

According to the information given to press, Stay Online’s production took place in Kyiv, Bucha, and Irpen during the war. A feat that is staggering considering the events happening in Ukraine.

The film has a modest budget, so it’s challenging to communicate the full scope of the war. Yet, director Yeva Strielnikova manages to channel the claustrophobic atmosphere of warfare. The sounds of missile sirens are constantly blasting; the computer screen feeds non-stop news updates in the notifications of reported dead and attacks, and sounds of explosions and bullets echo outside. And, of course, the performances feel authentic because this is a real-life horror most of the cast and crew are living through.

What elevates the film is the writing. The script carefully gives each of these characters moments of life, resulting in the viewer caring for each of them. The relationships evolve through Telegram videos, brief text messages, and video calls. In these moments, we feel the history and dynamics between them. Vitla picks on his sister Katya most endearingly. And when she needs something, he does it, even when she tells him not to. Helping a sibling, even when told not to help, is what loving brothers do for their sisters.

Liza Zaitseva is incredible here as Katya. Like Storm Reid in Missing, the entire experience rests on her shoulders, and she makes it believable. The heartbreak, terror, and empathy for the kid without parents– Zaitseva communicates the stakes effortlessly.

The film is one of the best movies so far at Fantasia. It has imperfections, but they are budget related. Stay Online is a gripping war drama for the age of social media and showcases the insane potential of these filmmakers if given higher funding.

Be sure to read our Part 1 and Part 2 most anticipated films at Fantasia and stay tuned for more Fantasia Film Fest reviews at Monsters and Critics.

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