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Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Kage No Gundan 2: Episode 1

Below readers will find a show by show description and critique complete with star rating about each episode from KAGE NO GUNDAN 2. The opinions herein are obviously my own so whether or not fans agree or disagree is entirely up to personal taste. Hopefully hardcore, casual or new fans alike will find this of use...

Episode 1: AN EYE FOR AN EYE (ME NI WA ME O!) *****

Script and Direction by Kinji Fukusaku

In 1751, six months after the death of Shogun Yoshimune, his replacement was yet to be chosen. The departed Shogun had two sons--Ieshige and Yoshiharu. Ieshige, the eldest, was ineffectual and possessed the mind of a child. His only supporter was his advisor, O'oka Tadamitsu. Yoshiharu, the youngest, was very intelligent and ambitious among his many great attributes. The ministers of the Shogunate looked upon him as the successor. However, Ieshige's supporter, O'oka Tadamitsu has other plans.

Out hunting one morning, Tsuge Shinpachi happens across a man pursued by members of the Koga Ninja clan. In his dying breath, the man hands him a scroll demanding he protect it. Shinpachi briefly engages the ninjas in combat managing to escape to return to his home in the mountains. Back at the peaceful Iga village, Shinpachi and others peruse the scroll. It is written in a foreign language and contains handprints of 26 unknown persons.

Considering the way in which it was obtained, Shinpachi surmises the scroll will possibly bring danger to the tranquility of the Igas. Ten years prior, the Iga clan had been agents for the Shogunate until they were stripped of their posts after the Koga enticed their way into the position. Since then, they have lived in autonomy as hunters in the Hachijoji hills. However, this fateful encounter threatens to disrupt the ten years of serenity the Iga have enjoyed.

One evening, Shinpachi receives a visit from his sister, Okiri whom he'd not seen in years. She pleads with him to return the scroll speaking of the danger that may follow should he keep it. He relents the mysterious document. Having memorized the lettering on the parchment, Shinpachi goes to doctor, painter and scientist Hiraga Gennai in the hopes of translating the document. It is learned that this certificate is a secret pact made by 26 conspirators pledging allegiance to Tadamitsu and his nefarious plans involving the Shogunate.

Another chance meeting with his sister leads Shinpachi to a conference with O'oka Tadamitsu who wants the Igas help in doing away with Shogun heir Yoshiharu. If the Iga comply, all their confiscated lands and position will be reinstated. Shinpachi refuses stating that living in peace through poverty is preferable than having no freedom under government rule.

This refusal results in the planned assassination of Yoshiharu but with the blame placed onto the Iga. This action brings about the destruction of the Iga village and the deaths of men, women and children. A small number of Iga barely escape the massacre. The Igas sworn enemies, the Koga take part in the annihilation.

Shinpachi and the remaining survivors inevitably become the Shadow Warriors, taking up residence and working in secret inside a restaurant called Yamabiko. Fueled by the desire to avenge the unjust annihilation of their people, Shinpachi and his followers seek out the 26 loyalists one by one matching their bloodied handprints with those etched into the pact of evil. Having obtained a copy of the handprints, each one is burned as each of O'oka's followers are cut down.

Famed director Kinji Fukusaku kicks off series two of KAGE NO GUNDAN with a bang directing an awesome show that leaves a lot for the rest of the series to live up to. Series two is a variation on Fukusaku's own YAGYU CLAN CONSPIRACY, a famous film from 1978 which features a number of actors also present in this tv show. A lot of ground is covered in the 45 minute running time and Toei couldn't have bestowed a better director for the auspicious debut of SHADOW WARRIORS 2.

Shinichi "Sonny" Chiba was, at one time, one of, if not the most popular actor in Japan. He could be seen everywhere from tv to cinema screens to billboards all over Japan. His charisma, piercing eyes and guttural, demanding voice dominate this series even more so than in series one. Chiba delivers a great line late in the show during his fight with the first conspirator. Instead of killing him outright, he delivers a "secret Iga revenge" in which the victim will die within three days after a deadly shot to the ribs. He sends the man back to O'oka with a message, "Tell your boss, O'oka Tadamitsu...I'll kill the Dark Shogun's 26 followers! Cut away their limbs, eyes and ears...until I am at the throat of the Dark Shogun himself. Tell him to expect me!"

Viewers also get a nice appearance by the gorgeous Etsuko Shihomi who plays a lead villain here throughout the series. Her character of Misato isn't featured in every single episode but her numerous appearances are very welcome and notable. Misato is possibly the most complex and layered personality in the whole of KAGE 2. Those who tune in for the entire 26 episodes will see what I mean. Unlike the box set of season one released in the US, these new subtitled versions taken from Japanese cable television contain the original preview of the upcoming episode.

Continued in Episode Two: THE VAMPIRE KILLER!!!

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