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Monday, October 20, 2008

Kage No Gundan 2: Episode 14


Directed by Ikuo Sekimoto

During a lethal martial arts tournament, Shiba Shizuma manages to kill his third opponent. This tournament, held every five years by the Koga to determine the Shogun's personal guards, is anticipated by the young Koga agents in training. Later, an anticipation of another sort is taking place. Koroku and Ryukichi anxiously look after a beautiful young lady (Miyuki) having a meal at Yamabiko. Shinpachi brings her an order of boar meat with a look of eagerness on his face. Otoki and Orin chastize him for ogling the woman. Koroku and Ryukichi follow her to a temple where she enters carrying the boar meat in her hands.

The two Iga spy a group of Koga agents dumping several corpses into a pit. Spotted, the Koga give chase. As usual, Hayate Kid is nearby and enables the Iga to escape. Back at headquarters, the three discuss the situation with Shin and the others. Curious if the beautiful woman is somehow connected to the Koga, Shin instructs them to act as if nothing has happened.

Okei enters the bathhouse disturbed after hearing Shinpachi is possessed by the young woman who is actually a badger spirit residing in Myorenji Temple. Orin asks what to do. She says Gennai has told her to write magic charms on Shin's body. Of course, this sends her into a sexual frame of mind. Orin desperately attempts to rip Shin's clothes off in order to write the incantations on his body. He narrowly manages to escape Orin's clutches. Shin goes to see Gennai who finds it all to be extremely amusing that he has used Shinpachi for the purpose of riling the sexually frustrated Orin. At that time, the pretty girl enters again but this time with her husband, Shiba Shizuma who was last seen partaking in a violent tournament. Before leaving, Shin notices a bruise on Shiba's neck realizing now that the boar meat was not eaten, but used to heal the bruise.

Continuing in the deadly tournament, Shiba must fight once more. However, he wishes to fight Awazu Denshu, the chief. Insulted, Denshu easily incapacitates Shiba crushing his arm. His wife, Miyuki, rushes over as the Koga prepare to kill them. Kumoi, the sister of the chief, intercedes preventing the killing. That night, Kumoi visits the injured Shiba and talks with him. She asks that he allow his wife to join the O'oku mistresses. Shiba refuses and Kumoi says he will not leave alive for this refusal. Shiba and Miyuki try to escape but he is attacked but she manages to get away. The Shadow Warriors show up to rescue Shiba. Shinpachi engages the Koga in a fight while the others escape into the night. Awazu Denshu watches nearby recognizing Shinpachi as the elusive Iga Phantom.

Back at Yamabiko, Gennai looks at Shiba's crushed arm. With special medicine, Gennai is able to obtain the handprint from Shiba's wound resulting in Shin saying, "No quack could do this!" Studying the print, Shin is compelled to talk with Shiba. The Iga chief and the Koga follower have a discussion. Shiba says that 15 years ago, Awazu Denshu killed his father, Shiba Samon and took over his position. Shiba has trained for years to avenge his father but now realizes he is no match for the might of the evil Denshu.

Meanwhile at Chiyoda Castle, the deranged Shogun, Iemitsu desires Lady Omitsu. Kumoi enters and stalls the Shogun telling him that she will be there soon. Kumoi scolds Lady Matsuo for bringing a common woman into the Shogun's chambers. However, Matsuo is privy to Kumoi's plan. Later, she is having a rendezvous with O'oka himself asking him when he is making her Chief Lady in Waiting. Kumoi then takes O'oka to a basement to show him something-- Miyuki is tied up in the basement and she is the spitting image of the feeble minded Shogun's beloved, Lady Omitsu. Denshu and his men plan to use Miyuki as a trap to lure the Shadow Warriors to them and wipe them out for good.

Iga ninja Otoki has managed to slip into the O'oku chambers and overhears a plot against the child-minded Shogun. Spotted, she escapes and finds shelter within the room of Lady Matsuo, the enemy of Lady Kumoi. Otoki sends a message via pigeon back to Shin and company. Later, Shinpachi meets with Shiba Shizuma who gives him a map to enter the castle through an underground tunnel; from the Myorenji well to under the O'oku chambers within Chiyoda castle. Shinpachi gives instructions on their plan of attack. The Hayate Kid joins them in the fight. He reinforces the danger of this mission to kill Awazu Denshu-- "He is stronger than any foe we have faced."

While the Shadow Warriors stealthily make their way to the castle, Miyuki is drugged for her night with the Shogun. Meanwhile, the Koga along with Lady Kumoi, initiate their plan of "cleaning up" the O'oku and the Shadow Warriors become trapped underground in the snares set by Denshu. When the two warring female factions begin their fight, Hayate Kid emerges to even the odds. At the same time, Denshu and his albino cronies attack the Shadow Warriors trapped underground in a supreme duel to the death. Amidst all this fighting, Shiba and Otoki burst into the Shogun's quarters to rescue his wife.

Elsewhere, the Iga make it to a storeroom and the battle continues. Shiba, Otoki and Miyuki end up in the basement having fallen through a trap door. Denshu has her and through his trickery and skill uses Miyuki as a shield against Shinpachi's blade. Miyuki is seriously injured but this enables for Shinpachi to deliver the killing blow to Awazu Denshu.

Later, Miyuki recovers and Shiba and Shin have a talk together. Shiba says he must go away as he knows Shinpachi's secret. Shin convinces him to put down his sword and become a farmer with his wife, "Once you do, there are no more codes. Freedom is a wonderful thing." Shiba agrees and leaves with a smile on his face. Then, Orin approaches with Okei giving chase. She is upset that Shin had sent Otoki to the O'oku to "further his career", and states, "She isn't very sexy. I will have to go. I'll get pregnant, then you will get ahead." Orin and Okei both continue to argue as to which one of them the Shogun will impregnate as they take off again leaving Shin at the base of the lake.

Another top class episode made all the more surprising in that it was directed by Ikuo Sekimoto who directed the more seedier entries in KAGE NO GUNDAN 2. Sekimoto delivers one of the most action packed episodes of this second series. Easily the best directed of his programs so far, this entry echoes the horror element that permeated episode two, 'The Vampire Killer'. Here, the horror figures are the main villain led by the albino ninja expert, Awazu Denshu and his two likewise pigment deficient aides. The underground sequence is a nice set piece and offers up something very different from the standard house fights of previous episodes.

Also, Denshu is touted as the strongest opponent faced by the Shadow Warriors. He has two "stand-ins" that follow him everywhere he goes and their faces are kept in the shadows most of the time. His appearance at the end is imposing especially the way in which he hoists Miyuki into the air using her as a shield to prevent the Iga from getting close to him. The fights are also plentiful and exciting. Aside from the last two episodes, this one has a generous amount of fighting on hand. Hiroyuki Sanada as the Hayate Kid gets a good amount of screen time as well. He figures prominently in the final battle and also gets a brief skirmish with a handful of Koga ninjas near the beginning.

O'oka Tadamitsu (Narita Mikio) figures conspicuously in this one, too. The character of Misato is absent as is Iga warrior Tsuruzo yet again. The comedy, again relegated to a couple of scenes, is more profound than normal and revolves (as usual) around the Orin character played to perfection by Japanese comedienne, Kiki Kirin. The bit where she thinks Shin is possessed by a wood spirit is hilarious resulting in her nearly raping him. As per most of the shows, Orin closes the episode with another comedic scene.

A thoroughly engaging show from beginning to end, this one is recommended to the fans that require a lot of action and little drama. The Japan Action Club are in fine form here and get lots of screen time to show their skills. The atmosphere of this episode is very dark and foggy. Director Sekimoto seems to enjoy horror or exploitation elements in his programs and the overall look and design of the villains as well as the predominant night time scenes suit his style. The best episode from the director I've seen thus far.

Continued in Episode Fifteen: A LOVE DOOMED!!!

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