Kamen Rider Returns to US Television!
On the opposite side of every mirror on Earth lies the parallel dimension of Ventara – a world destroyed by the evil alien, General Xaviax. The Kamen Riders were warriors from Ventara who fought Xaviax with armor and abilities powered by their Advent Decks. Unfortunately, Xaviax stole the Advents Decks and defeated all the Riders but one.
Kamen Rider Wing Knight is the sole surviving Kamen Rider – the only man who can stop Xaviax from destroying Earth the same way he destroyed Ventara. To defeat Wing Knight, Xaviax brought the Advent Decks to Earth and tricked ordinary citizens into becoming new Kamen Riders – super-powered soldiers who will carry out his evil plans.
After his father’s mysterious disappearance, Kit Taylor finds an Advent Deck and becomes Kamen Rider Dragon Knight. He joins forces with Kamen Rider Wing Knight to defeat the ten corrupt Kamen Riders that Xaviax sends against them. By fighting, the two hope not only to save the Earth from Xaviax’s domination, but to find Kit’s missing father and win back Ventara as well.
On our Earth, there are also what sometimes seems to be two parallel dimensions, the United States and Japan. Many pieces of each culture cross the Pacific Ocean and become a part of the other, whether it is Japanese eating hamburgers and watching the latest US blockbuster movie or Americans eating sushi and watching anime.
Now Steve and Michael Wang are attempting to bring Japan’s motorcycle riding heroes to the US in a big way with the CW’s new Saturday morning TV series KAMEN RIDER DRAGON KNIGHT, a show inspired by Ishimori Production and Toei Co., Ltd.’s MASKED RIDER RYUKI (Kamen Raidaa Ryuuki, 2002).
Join us now for a look at KAMEN RIDER DRAGON KNIGHT as we talk to Producer Steve Wang and find out how the series came to be and where it hopes to go.
SciFi Japan: Why MASKED RIDER RYUKI and how did the whole concept of KAMEN RIDER DRAGON KNIGHT come about?
Steve Wang: I was approached by Aki Komine, a producer I had worked with on the original GUYVER film and another film called DRIVE back in July of 2006. He told me he had gotten Toei Studio’s approval to do a demo film [pre-show pilot] of KAMEN RIDER. He and his partners had chose RYUKI because there were 13 Riders and that meant more toys to sell.
At first I had some reservations about doing the show. Aki and I had talked about doing an original Kamen Rider film back in the early 90’s- pre Saban MASKED RIDER days- but we couldn’t get the rights.
And doing an adaptation of an existing show was not something I was all that interested in. But after some back and forth, Toei agreed for us to re-imagine the show anyway we saw fit and that was what convinced me to do it.
So my brother Mike and I came up with a general premise for the show based on some of the original RYUKI footage and we wrote the script with Scott Philips [screenwriter of DRIVE]. We made the pre-show pilot for very little money because we were able to utilize the RYUKI footage. We made the pre-show pilot as a way to explain the bare bones concept of DRAGON KNIGHT to the networks so they will understand what the show is.
After we were done with the pre-show pilot, we got word back from Toei that they liked it and granted us the rights to make the actual show. Aki and his partner Fumio Sebata independently financed the show so we had no studio backing at all. But it also meant that we had a lot more freedom to do the kind of show we wanted.
SFJ: RYUKI is a fairly involved show with numerous subplots based around the different Riders that come in and out of the series. Did this have to be simplified for Saturday morning television? What parts did you adapt and what parts could you really not do?
SW: RYUKI was a very complicated story; one that I can’t say I completely understand after watching it. Maybe it was the translation, I don’t know. But it got very confusing at times.
DRAGON KNIGHT is not based on the RYUKI storyline. There are similarities between the two because we had to use whatever suit footage we can. This was necessary due to our low budget. Like I said, we had no studio support from the beginning so our budget was actually little over half that of POWER RANGERS per episode.
Anyway, we simply could not afford to recreate every effect shot that was already done for RYUKI. Having to use the Japanese footage and making it work within the structure of our original story was quite a challenge, too. Nathan Long was our head Writer. He, Mike and I worked very hard to make sense of it all and still tell our original story.
We kept some of the key elements like the whole alternate world concept and using the reflection as a way to travel between worlds. We also kept some of the character traits of the different riders from the show. But everything else was original. I did not believe in remaking RYUKI because it would have been redundant. Also RYUKI dealt with subject matters that would not have been very kid-friendly in the US.
Bandai kept pushing for us to make a show for 5 year olds but I wanted to make a show for older kids 7-12 and hopefully teens would also watch too. It was a bit of a struggle that sometimes turned really ugly. Making this shows was tough business and a daunting task full of guesswork. It’s not everyday someone hands you a 38-year-old franchise and trust you to do whatever you felt like. I give Toei and Bandai kudos for not being more difficult than they could have. They knew I had a vision for the show and that I believed in it and stuck by it. If it becomes successful, then we’ve set new precedence and a new way to approach this kind of material in the US. But if it fails, and they still want to make season 2, then it will probably end up like POWER RANGERS again. I hope not, but we’ll see…
SFJ: What do you think are the cultural differences between US and Japanese audiences and how do you think each approaches a series like KAMEN RIDER?
SW: I guess one could write a book about our cultural differences. But I’ll stick to some the differences in the approach and the type of things that may be acceptable to the Japanese but not us and vise versa. For one, the callings out of an attack move like “Rider Kick!” Growing up an Asian kid, this concept is not new to me and is highly acceptable in the Asian culture. But it sounds ridiculous in the American culture because nobody does that. Why would you call out your moves in a fight. Silly right? POWER RANGERS have been doing this for the last 15 years and it’s still silly.
Also posing while transforming. It’s cool if you’re Asian, but here, it’s silly to me still. We don’t pose in KAMEN RIDER DRAGON KNIGHT because we don’t want the new generation of audience that we are trying to capture to feel alienated by this type of behavior. Personally, I love all the posing, just look at our crew photos. I’m posing like Ichigo in all the pictures! [laughs] I appreciate it for what it is but I also recognize its downfalls in the American cultural mindset. The kids we are trying to appeal to do not watch POWER RANGERS and have no idea what a Kamen Rider is. They are not fanboys…YET! [laughs]
Another big thing is the subject matter. In Japan, the restrictions of what can be shown on TV is more lenient than in the US. I remember Kamen Rider Ouja in human form holding a kid hostage at gunpoint. Guess what, for all the fans who complain that the US toku shows have no balls… well, it’s not that we don’t want to; there are standards and practices that we have to abide by for network television. So it’s just not legal to show these things in a kid show in the US and that’s not negotiable. Trust me, we tried and we did manage to push some stuff through, you’ll see, but guns held at kids’ heads and people dying? No can do.
SFJ: Why “Kamen” and not “Masked”? I thought up until now Toei had been trying to market the various series as MASKED RIDER, up to and including the Media Blasters’ release of MASKED RIDER: THE FIRST?
SW: It was my idea to rename the show. I had to convince Toei to let me call it KAMEN Rider instead of MASKED Rider for a few reasons. Growing up, I never watched ‘Masked Rider’… it was always KAMEN RIDER and seeing it called ‘Masked’ always felt strange. I’m just not a fan of using descriptions to name a character such as ‘Masked’. That’s like calling Darth Vader “Armored Sith Lord”. It’s silly to me.
I also did not want people to confuse this show with the failed Saban show [SABAN’S MASKED RIDER, an adaptation of KAMEN RIDER BLACK RX] from 10 years ago. All the higher ups involved are really concerned that we don’t repeat those same mistakes but they don’t really know how to make this show appeal to the new generation of kids. I did some hard pitching in the beginning and I think they were convinced enough to take a chance with our new approach to revive this franchise. I am trying to make Kamen Rider a household name here in the US.
SFJ: What could you say to convince fans that this is not just another “POWER RANGERS”? What are the differences in which these two series are handled?
SW: I would tell them first and foremost this is not KAMEN RIDER RYUKI. If they are remotely interested in this show then just watch it and give it a chance. They will notice a more mature tone and a lack of goofy antics, much like the original shows. We have some comedy, but only when it feels right to have it.
I know the purists who think any US adaptation is crap and won’t let themselves like it no matter what, and I’ll be the first to tell them not to waste their time watching the show. It’s not for them. I would actually prefer that they don’t watch it and not post negative messages in the fan forums about it. I never understood that concept. There are shows I am a fan of but don’t watch because I didn’t like what they are doing with it. And I’m talking original Japanese toku shows. But I don’t go on forums to trash it. I think that’s really lame. As is criticizing a show for 6-11 year old kids and you are in your 20’s or older. Honestly, I’m speechless! I stay away from Teletubbie and Barney forums! [laughs]
Anyway, my point is the original Japanese versions will always be there for them to enjoy and, despite what they believe, no one can ever take that away. And as for Toei releasing a subbed or dubbed RYUKI; that has nothing to do with me. I was hired only to make DRAGON KNIGHT. I have no control over Toei’s marketing of their properties. It’s entirely up to them. My opinions about this don’t matter to them. But this is just common sense, if Toei thinks Japanese toku TV series subbed or dubbed can actually make money, they would have already done it.
Not that I need to justify myself to toku fans, but we made every effort to treat the show with respect. I have been a big KAMEN RIDER fan since the 70’s and anyone who knows me can vouch for that. I consider it a real honor to be able to re-introduce the Riders to a new generation of would-be fans and hopefully give back some of that magic I received watching the shows as a kid.
And the bottom line, I love KAMEN RIDER! And I did everything in my power- within the constraint of budget and regulations- to make something that I know Shotaro Ishinomori would have been proud of and hope the new generation of kids will like as well. I hope it will also appease the adult fans too. But sadly, the adult fans are not the target audience for this show. As I have been told (more times than I wanted to hear from my bosses) this is toy commercial, so it won’t hurt my feeling if the adult fans reject it. Hell, the Japanese fans of the original can’t even agree on what they like in a KAMEN RIDER show! [laughs] All I know is that I am very proud of DRAGON KNIGHT and I have every confidence that we did the show justice here.
SFJ: What kind of working relationship is there with Toei? How much say do they have over how the show is developed?
SW: I had met with Takeyuki Suzuki on multiple occasions. He’s the man responsible for producing the last 25 years of KAMEN RIDER in Japan. We worked with him closely. He would read our scripts and give us notes and suggestions. We had a great working relationship because he knew we were big fans of the show and took this job very seriously. As for Toei, we met all the head honchos. They visited the set on many occasions too and always gave us words of support and encouragement. And they were able to see the rough cuts of some of the episodes and they loved it. Gave us the big thumbs up. Besides that, they completely trusted us to re-imagine the show for an American audience.
SFJ: Can you talk a little bit about the cast? How were the actors chosen and who do you see as a standout in the series?
SW: We did the standard casting call thing. Our casting agents Don Pembrick and Dean Fronk are very well know for casting a lot of the new and upcoming actors for feature films. I am very happy with all of our cast. They are really good actors, very professional, easy to work with and a joy on set. As for standout actors, that’s for the audience to decide. But there’s definitely many that really shine!
SFJ: How many episodes were already shot when the series was picked up by the CW? Will we see changes in subsequent episodes because of the network? Or will there be changes later on due to more creative reasons?
SW: We shot all 40 episodes before we had a deal with CW. Our experience with their standards and practices department went really well. Since we were all TV newbies, we really didn’t know what was acceptable for TV when we were shooting so we did break some rules. And for those who are not in the know about S&P, there are quite a bit of strict rules for kid’s shows. Can’t have guns, people can’t die, certain sexy tones etc…
We actually had to do a minor recut for Kamen Rider Siren’s introduction scene. CW felt it was way too sexually charged! They caught us on that. [laughs] We did work hard to make her debut scene sexy and kick-ass!
In the end they let us get away with quite a bit of stuff because they loved the show. It was really cool for them to tell us they can’t wait to see the next episode while giving us notes. AND they really respected the artists’ creative vision. They always suggest things without interfering with the style and the storytelling and made it a point to let us know they did not want to meddle with the show!
SFJ: Do you have shooting costumes for the various Riders? Or will all the KAMEN RIDER DRAGON KNIGHT footage be from the Japanese series?
SW: We shot a ton of in-suit footage. We actually shot way more new action footage for the show than we used of the original Japanese footage. We had quite a few episodes that were all action and has no Japanese footage at all. We imported some of the original suit performers from Japan so we can have continuity in the suit acting, but we also used a lot of fighters and stuntmen in the US who were familiar with suit action. We also had an amazing motorcycle stunt team; real A-list riders in the stunt world. Our main action director is Akihiro ‘Yuji” Noguchi of Alpha stunts. Yuji has worked on every one of my projects since GUYVER 2. He’s an amazing stuntman and fighter and a really good action director too! He and I split the chores directing action on the show.
SFJ: Will there be any merchandise based on the show? Original or repackaged from the Japanese products?
SW: Bandai America is handling all the toys for the show and it should be available this June. As for the details about the toys, I am not sure. But I don’t think they will be the repackaged toys from Japan. Americans are not used to paying as much as the Japanese for toys so I think they will be made for less so they can sell for less.
SFJ: If KAMEN RIDER DRAGON KNIGHT is a success, what would you want to do next?
SW: I actually want to go back to doing creature effects for a little while. KAMEN RIDER DRAGON KNIGHT was almost a 3-year project from conception to final completion and I really need a break. Working really long hours for this many years in a row really wore me down and I’m looking forward to a 40 hour a week job! LOL
As for TV/film projects, my brother Mike, Nathan Long and I are developing a few and are actively pitching to studios and networks, so we’ll see. There’s been strong interest in us in this town lately because of KAMEN RIDER.
One funny side note: I Had the honor of meeting the late Shotaro Ishinomori back in 1987 when I visited Japan. He was an awesome man! And he had a limo take me to an amusement park to see the debut of his attraction film that was showing there. He told me I should play a Kamen Rider because I looked like one. I was 21 at the time and in better shape! Anyway, I will never forget that day! [laughs]
KAMEN RIDER DRAGON KNIGHT can be seen every Saturday morning at 11:30am on the CW Network.