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Monday, October 20, 2008

Kage No Gundan 2: Episode 13


Directed by Ota Akikazu

Utanosuke trims a female clients hair while she details her story of being adopted. Uta relates since he has been in hiding after the unjust massacre of the Iga clan. Outside, a crazed man (Daikokuya Sobe), the husband of the young woman (Noe), enters and attempts to kill Uta accusing him of making love to his wife. All the while, a mysterious figure is heard off in the distance playing a haunting tune on a flute. The woman is injured in the struggle. Uta rushes to retrieve doctor Gennai to treat the injured woman. Before he arrives, Gennai is demonstrating "electricity" to Ryukichi. At the same time, Orin, dressed up in hunters garb enters Yamabiko awaiting her hunting trip with Shinpachi. To her chagrin, Gohei tells her he went on ahead. Orin then comes to the realization that, "The two of us alone in the mountains...what if he got funny ideas?"

Meanwhile, a priest named Gensei Hoshi is introduced. Purporting to cure any illness with a simple prayer, his powers are called upon to save a sick wife of a local merchant. During the "cure", the priest utilizes some strange tactics ultimately hypnotizing the husband while a helper plays a lingering melody on a flute. After the bizarre ceremony is finished, the priest exits and a disoriented man approaches the priest exclaiming that he give him some more "medicine". Returning from his hunting trip, Shinpachi sees this.

The old man falls down dead in the street. Shin spies a small needle stuck in the mans throat. Ryukichi quickly follows and is immediately attacked by hooded assailants. He gets away. That evening, Shin is cleaning the feathers off some pheasants when Orin enters upset that he left her that morning. The two repeatedly sneeze as Shin stirs up the feathers in an effort to get Orin to leave him be. Ryukichi enters and manages to get her to leave and he details his ordeal with the traveling priests.

The following morning Uta sees Noe, the young woman who was injured by her husband. He gives her medicine prepared by Gennai. She states that the way her husband acted the day before was the reason they lost their pawnshop. For the past six months, he had violent outbursts. She also says that every time he had a spell, traveling priests were always around and the sound of a Shakuhachi (flute) was playing. She then details the fateful evening that her husband became first entranced by the mysterious priest. Every 5 or 6 days he would leave home taking a lot of money with him each time.

Late that night the priest, Gensei meets with a seedy individual who tells him of two merchants that will be of use to him and his hypnotic powers. suddenly, Shiina Misato interrupts the meeting. She comes with a warning from lord O'oka that he should be more cautious especially of murder in broad daylight. Asked how she knows, Misato responds, "It's our cause the ruin of big merchants." Gensei tells her to relay to O'oka not to worry that of the 50,000 merchants in Edo, "The money I've taken are like bird's tears." Gensei reminds Misato that O'oka is supported by the money he steals away from his victims. As he tries to slip some coins within Misato's clothes, she shoves him away stating, "I won't stand for arrogance...even from one of the 26!"

Meanwhile, Daikokuya Sobei ponders his predicament having had to send all his workers away unable to pay his wholesalers. His wife enters his darkened room begging him to "awaken from that evil flute". Shin and company are enjoying rounds of sake while a troubled Uta is disinterested. He later tells Shin and Gohei about the troubles of Daikokuya Sobe who is losing all his money mysteriously. They wonder if the once great store merchant, Iseya, who died in the street a couple days earlier, was involved in this situation as well. Believing merchant Iwakiya to be the next victim, Gohei watches over his house that night. Sure enough, the melody is heard, and a sleeping Iwakiya awakens in a hypnotic state with a handful of gold coins. Gohei intervenes and knocks Iwakiya unconscious. He then assumes the identity of Iwakiya and is then taken to the meeting place of Gensei. Sent into a room with an unknown naked woman, Gensei exits and Gohei renders the woman unconscious and investigates the house. He discovers some unusual plants being grown. Suddenly, he is attacked by the priests wielding spears. Then, Gensei returns this time with his arm set aflame! He attempts to kill Gohei but he is saved by the Shadow Warriors.

The following day, Gennai surmises the plant is Taima hemp. Stimulating the nervous system, it causes hallucinations in those that are intoxicated with it in addition to causing the user to become instantly addicted. At the same time, wholesalers return to Daikokuya's home to demand their money back. When they leave, the flute plays and Daikokuya hurriedly grabs some gold coins and rushes off to be met by the waiting priests. That night at Gensei's place, the villains decide Sobe hasn't enough money this time. Feeling the withdrawal effects of the drug and desiring more, the villains tell him he doesn't have to give money...he can sign over his wife..."In case of nonpayment, I surrender my wife, Noe".

The next morning, Noe awakens to find her husband has hanged himself. After sitting with his body all afternoon, she learns the horrible truth that her husband has signed her over to the villains. She is taken away in a palanquin and Uta unknowingly passes by. He visits the Daikokuya home and finds a letter left by Noe detailing that she will strike at those that brought her husband to suicide as well as take her own life in the process.

Going on his own, Uta stealthily sneaks into Gensei's home to halt the rape of Noe. Meanwhile, the other Iga are angered that Uta has broken the code. Unable to abandon him, Shinpachi and the others are not far behind. Trapped and outnumbered, Uta fights the wicked priests and dies saving Noe. The Shadow Warriors arrive too late to save Uta but manage to massacre the evil priests rather quickly. With only Gensei Hoshi remaining, Shinpachi faces him alone.

The Iga surround their fallen warrior who died saving Noe, a woman with whom he had fallen in love with. Mourning the death of Uta, the Shadow Warriors burn the bloody paper, "This handprint bears the hatred of wasted souls." Some time later, Orin enters the restaurant looking for Uta whom she hasn't seen in a while, "He is a girl chaser, but a great hairdresser." With a look of melancholy, Gohei says, "I hope he's chasing girls in heaven." Noe kneels at Uta's grave with Shinpachi at her side. The two head back into town consumed by a great sadness over the loss of the Iga warrior.

Director supreme Ota Akikazu returns to deliver yet another top class episode of KAGE NO GUNDAN 2. An extraordinary talent at crafting a dramatic showcase, this episode is most notable for featuring a death of one of the major characters. The other startling aspect of this program is the drug plotline used by the evil priests led by Gensei Hoshi. An interesting and imposing figure, the only real drawback here is that you learn little about him or his style. He is obviously a highly skilled ninja as are his cohorts. In what is one of the shortest final fights of the series, it is also one of the most brutal. The Shadow Warriors, no doubt enraged by the sight of their dying friend, come in and lay waste to the priests quickly and viciously.

Tsuruzo is absent from this episode and Etsuko Shihomi looks gorgeous as always putting in a brief, but memorable appearance. The two comedic moments involving Orin near the beginning are some of the best especially the one in which Shin is removing the feathers from the birds. He keeps tossing them into the air to make Orin sneeze even more and yet she still tries to badger him with her come-on's. Her scene at the end carries an unexpected solemnity trading her usual comical moment for the sorrow of Uta's death felt by the Shadow Warriors. Another well done, dramatic episode from Akikazu Ota.

Continued in Episode Fourteen: BEAUTY IN THE NIGHT!!!

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