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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Kage No Gundan 2: Episode 15


Directed by Ikuo Sekimoto

A group of hooded assassins murder five overseers during the night. Gohei happens upon Overseer Nakayama and takes him to safety at the house of Junior Councillor, Ise-no-kami. He dies from his wounds, but utters, "They've learned...our plan!" before he expires. Ise asks Gohei who he is and initially plans to kill him but relents after asking him to forget everything he has heard. Gohei reports accordingly to the Shadow Warriors. Later, Sir Ise is briefly interrogated by lord Tamba in reference to a rumor that he and Overseer Oyagi are conspiring to unseat O'oka Tadamitsu as Chief Advisor to the Shogun. He denies the rumors but leaves the chamber after a heated argument.

The next day, Otoki is performing in the cold, snowy streets. She meets a man named Kawamura Shinjiro and the two become friends. She reminds him of his sister. The following day, Orin wants to know what's going on as everyone is in Yamabiko is in a rush running from one spot the next. Shinpachi details that the Mukai Fencing School is having a feast. Orin wishes to help as well but only if the members are young men. Okei enters dressed beautifully which riles Orin, who rushes her away to be away from the men. Otoki takes more Sake upstairs to the swordsmen's meeting and sees the young man she met in the street is in attendance.

The aim of the Mukai School is to purge the world of filth and despair. Kawamura's ideals differ from those of his colleagues. He runs off in disgust. Otoki follows and Kawamura tells her of savagery and violence towards the poor he has seen especially in his home village of Shimokita. He grabs Otoki and rushes her away to show her something...his sister working as a prostitute. She raised him and sold her body to support him. He then asks her, "Otoki-san, do you know how terrible it is to lose your home?" This prompts her to remember the massacre of the Iga village. The two share much in common.

Later, Sir Nakaya Bunzo is summoned to the masters chambers of the Mukai School. The master, Mukai Komei, hypnotizes him commanding him to kill Overseer Oyagi that night. The murder is carried out. Again Gohei, this time with Ryukichi, arrive too late. Ryukichi manages to see the hooded men rushing into the Mukai School. Nakaya questions the School's intentions and pays for it. As he leaves, the hooded killers cut him down in the street. Learning of this additional murder, Otoki, Shinpachi, Koroku and Gohei run to see the body. Shinpachi and the others notice Otoki's concern for Kawamura and realize she has feelings for the man.

Shinpachi reminds her that ninja have given up their right to happiness. She, of course, ignores this. Otoki meets with him and she relays suspicion of Mukai Komei. Kawamura states that Mukai took him in and was like a father to him. He then gives Otoki something to give to his sister as she will not see him.

That evening, Otoki meets with Kawamura's sister, Miyo. She exclaims she has no brother and demands that Otoki leave and never come back again. Late that night Otoki sneaks into the Mukai School and overhears Mukai Komei speaking with a disembodied voice. She learns that Mukai killed Nakaya Bunzo, Kawamura's good friend. She then stealthily enters Yotsuya Mansion, the home of lord Tamba and learns that Ise-no-kami is next to be murdered. Kawamura is selected as the man to carry out the assassination.

He is hypnotized as well. Otoki spies the ceremony but is discovered. Asking who she is, the disembodied voice states, "She works for the Iga Phantom!" A wall opens and a hooded man enters. He removes his mask to reveal the visage of servant Shichibei. Mukai Komei declares he is the founder of the Kongo Satta style, and that he is to be obeyed. Shichibei then orders Mukai to kill Otoki. As Mukai draws his blade, Kawamura stops him and says, "Before I kill lord Ise...I would like to slaughter this woman."

A quick thinking ruse, Kawamura instead cuts down Mukai Komei, but himself brings down the wrath of the other members. Having tailed her, Koroku appears and the three manage to escape. Lord Ise prepares to leave when he is approached by Tsuge Shinpachi. He tells Ise of the plot to murder him that night. A plan is set in motion by the Shadow Warriors to surprise the insidious Mukai killers. Shinpachi hides within the palanquin supposedly carrying Ise and upon surprising the assassins, the fight begins.

Shichibei uses his sorcery to command his followers to attack but they all fall under the blades of the Iga saviors. Lord Tamba tries to escape in the commotion but Gohei stops his retreat killing him in the process. The reformation of the world taught by the evil of the Mukai School, was only a ploy to eliminate all those that would threaten the Dark Shogun's cruel plans.

Otoki takes Kawamura Shinjiro to his sister, Miyo's room. On his death bed, she finally accepts him as family; for her shame in selling her body, she could not bring herself to recognize her brother. He requests that she sing the lullaby she used to sing to him as a child. She does and Kawamura slips away peacefully. Otoki and Miyo bury him the following day. Otoki attempts to give her the scarf Kawamura left for his sister. She refuses stating, "You use it. I'm going to Hell, anyway. I don't want to dirty his memory. Keep him safe in your heart."

Some time later, the Shadow Warriors talk of Otoki's absence. Suddenly, Orin and Okei appear apparently in a "beauty contest" as to who looks the best. Otoki then passes by and Shinpachi talks with her imparting some words of wisdom when Orin enters in tears proclaiming her sorrow for Otoki's loss. As Orin cries on her scarf, she pauses, the tears suddenly stopped and says, "Hey, will this shrink?"

An amazingly poignant episode made all the more startling in that it's directed by the exploitative hand of Ikuo Sekimoto. He goes all out to deliver an emotional and dramatically enhanced show that goes by rather quickly fused together by a bang up fight at the end. Sekimoto handles this episode so well, you have no time to really notice the lack of action till the end. Sekimoto is quickly becoming a "mature" force throughout KAGE NO GUNDAN 2.

Not taking anything away from the man, but up until this point, his direction was far less "respectable" than say Ota Akikazu or even the venerable Kinji Fukasaku who started series two off with a bang. There's a familiar story conceit that reappears here; that of a sorcerer that hypnotizes individuals into doing his bidding. This increasingly tired plot point was featured most recently in episode 13: THE TERRIFIED WIFE.

Most of the Iga main characters all get their own episodes and Otoki takes center stage here. It's not quite as talky as episode 12: CATCH THAT GIRL!, which had Koroku as the center of attention, it's no less involving. The major difference is that Koroku's show ended on an upbeat note while Otoki's finishes on a sad one. Dr. Gennai is conspicuous in his absence in the only episode so far not to feature him in some capacity. Tsuruzo and Shiina Misato do not feature in this episode, nor does Hayate Kid played by Hiroyuki Sanada.

The comedic scenes with Orin follow the usual formula and appear near the beginning and close the episode as they do much of the time. Kiki Kirin continues to be an increasing bright spot on series two with her relentless attempts to snag a man most preferably, Shinpachi. A highly recommended episode and director Sekimoto is becoming one to watch out for.

Continued in Episode Sixteen: THE QUEEN BEE STRIKES TWICE!!!

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