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Saturday, September 27, 2008

Kage No Gundan 2: Episode 7


Directed by Makiguchi Yuji

A sick man enters Yamabiko and collapses. Shinpachi and Gohei attend to him but it's just a ruse. The man is an Iga and details some recent Iga slayings by the Koga. Shinpachi heads for Togakushi Mountains to consult his master. In conference with O'oka, Misato discusses her eagerness to find her fathers killer. Before leaving, Misato visits her fathers grave and finds Omine, a female Koga follower, doing the same. The two talk briefly. Later, while searching the Iitsuna Moutains, Misato is caught in a great storm. She takes shelter in a nearby barn.

Unbeknownst to her, Shinpachi rests inside. The two duel briefly till a rock slide destroys the barn. Misato is injured when her leg is smashed by a falling beam. Shinpachi nurses her back to health and leaves in the night. When she awakens the next morning she finds Shinpachi has left her a medicine bag and a cane. Misato returns to her headquarters and learns from Gensai that Omine has broken the code of the Koga and eloped with a sword sharpener. It is forbidden for one of the Shiina to become intimate with an outsider.

Gensai notices the medicine bag dangling from Misato's side. Gensai brings it to her attention rather excitedly that the owner of this medicine bag was the one who killed her father. Gensai had arrived too late to stop the murder and saw Misato's father fall to the ground and grasp at the bag when he hit the ground. That night Misato dreams that she confronts Shinpachi exclaiming "Why did you steal my heart?" She, too, has fallen in love but is now torn between these newfound feelings and those of revenge.

Shinpachi, Gohei and Shota are out fishing one day. Shinpachi details to Gohei his suspicions that master Rando is a traitor and responsible for the recent spate of Iga deaths. Meanwhile, the suspicions are confirmed when Rando arrives at O'oka's home to receive the titles to former Shogunate lands. He can rule as he wishes but only after eliminating the Shadow Warriors. Iga Kikumaru eavesdrops on the plan but Rando discovers him easily. He sets his scorpion loose on him injuring him terribly. The Shiina dispose of his body but Hayate Kid, having seen the incident, pulls his body from the water. Returning to Yamabiko with Kikumaru in tow, the Shadow Warriors attempt to save him.

In the meantime, Omine and her lover are captured and tortured. Misato goes to her. Her passion for Shinpachi is inflamed when Omine proclaims, "Why is it wrong to fall in love?!" Conflicted with emotion, Misato is torn between stopping the carnage, and remaining true to her duty as leader of the Shiina. Too late to halt Gensai, Omine and her lover are both killed violently. Misato turns away tears running down her face. Now, she faces feelings and emotions she never felt before and questions her place as the leader of the Shiina agents.

Some time after, the Iga receive word that Rando has been kidnapped. Nevertheless, Shinpachi appears unmoved by the incident. Gohei goes to see Dr. Gennai about his new invention--high powered explosives used in a weapon specially constructed by doctor Gennai. Later, the Shadow Warriors bury Kikumaru and swear revenge for his death before heading off to rescue Rando. Both sides have surprises for the other. Even so, the Iga are one step ahead--they approach in what appears to be some primitive form of a tank! Shogunate guardsmen fire their rifles but the bullets bounce off of the outer shell makeshift tank. In a humorous scene, Gohei nearly blows himself to kingdom come uttering, "Doctor Gennai...what have you invented?!"

The battle rages between Iga and Koga. Shinpachi having already guessed that Rando had turned evil, arrives and sets him loose from his cage. After the Shadow Warriors have vanquished the majority of Koga and the Shogunate soldiers, Shinpachi and Rando head off for their duel together. Greed being the reason for Rando's betrayal, Shinpachi dispatches him swiftly. Before leaving, Misato tries to stop him accusing him of murdering her father, Sogen. Shinpachi says he had been in the Hachijoji Hills at the time, well before the feud between their two factions had started. Having no intentions of fighting the injured Misato, he tells her, "Get well soon!"

Back at Yamabiko, the Shadow Warriors match Rando's hand print with that of the one found in O'oka's despicable pact. The Iga are devastated that one of their own would align themselves with the traitors that hunted them like dogs. The following day Oharu, Gohei's daughter, is having problems with customers demanding more meat. Shinpachi yells for her to get her father to help. Amusingly, both Gohei and doctor Gennai are drunk with each throwing insults at one another. Gohei exclaiming, "I was almost killed", and Gennai countering with, "You fool! You handled it wrong. There's no medicine that can cure a fool." The insults continue as the two order more sake! Shinpachi sends Oharu out to them with bottles of water instead! Shinpachi says, "They'll never know..."

Etsuko Shihomi spearheads this outstanding episode from series two of KAGE NO GUNDAN. The focus is on her character of Misato. Here, her persona begins to slowly morph from a determined and loyal warrior into a woman empowered with emotions never felt before. This character change foreshadows drastic consequences for her later in the series. Shihomi's acting here is top class and only continues to get better as the series progresses. This is a jam packed episode with a little bit of everything. There's drama, intrigue, plot twists and a good amount of action spread throughout.

A popular television series device is put to use here--the protagonist and antagonist are caught in a life threatening situation and must work together to survive but go their separate ways once the threat is over. This scheme being the sequence in which Misato happens to take refuge in the same shed as Shinpachi. Being the honorable man that he is, Shin helps the woman that has been trying to kill him the past 6 episodes. This scene begins the transition of Misato from resolute Shogunate agent to a woman warrior who now knows what it's like to have feelings for another. Misato is torn between embracing such feelings and tossing them aside for a questionable personal vendetta and that of her loyalty to O'oka.

Director Yuji fashions a fantastic program that offers a perfect balance of action and dramatic elements and some perfectly timed minor comedic moments. Orin is nowhere to be found here and with so much going on, there really is no room for her scene stealing character. You almost don't realize Kiki Kirin is absent from the episode. Replacing her in the last scene usually reserved for her comedic closer is the aforementioned hilarious bit featuring a drunk-off-their-rockers Gohei and Gennai. Their banter is priceless as is the final shot which has the participants breaking character and laughing into the camera.

Sonny Chiba displays in sporadic moments throughout this series that he was an ace at doing comedy as much as he was at cutting down conspirators and ninjas. This episode marks the return of the camouflage Iga outfits. Shota, the little boy appears briefly. Also, in a nice addition, Ishibashi Masashi, Junjo from THE STREET FIGHTER (1974) plays Sakasaki Rando, Shinpachi's sword master. One of the highlights and best episodes of KAGE NO GUNDAN 2.

Continued in Episode Eight: THE RED-LIPPED NUNS!!!

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