Wednesday, December 17, 2008
Kage No Gundan 2: Episode 22
Episode 22: THE DESPERATE GAMBLE (KOGA NINPO HISSATSU NO KAKE) *****
Directed by Kameoka Masato
Former Shiina chief, Misato, now a blind musician, plays her instrument by the river at night and is attacked by a group of killers. She lays waste to them and leaves the area. Some time later, a group of ninjas called the Yashajin gang attack a unit of men carrying carts loaded with 100,000 ryo in government funds. The men are killed and the carts are stolen. A young child, Omiyo, manages to escape. The killers give chase. Misato saves the little girl and cuts down the assailants. Misato finds a single dice under her foot and makes off with the little girl.
Sometime later, Shin and Tsuruzo enjoy a meal together when Orin enters and again tries to entrance Shinpachi with her "Charms". Meanwhile, a group of men are gambling and get into a fight. Hayate Kid ends up in the middle of them spying Misato and the little girl entering town. He follows them to a burial shrine where he converses with Misato. Believing that she is also after the recently stolen funds, Hayate reminds her of the 70,000 ryo that the Shiina had stolen two years prior when she was the Shiina leader. But Hayate is mistaken. Misato is after the culprits that have absconded with the money and killed the little girls father.
Misato goes to a gambling house in Kushu. She attracts the attention of the house owner. Taking in a private game with the man, Misato notices the dice is the same make as the one she found earlier. She wins another round but the owners refuse to cash in her chips. They attack her resulting in her cutting one of the mens arms off. Tatsumiya Yasugoro enters the room and stops any more violence. Tatsumiya asks Misato (calling herself Omisa) to stay as his guest for a while. She accepts for the sole purpose of investigation.
The next day, Shin walks in on doctor Gennai performing an experiment on an animal using shock treatment. He asks Shin to find Misato and bring her to him as he can cure her blindness with his newly created electrical machine. That night, Misato searches a storeroom for the stolen funds. Hayate Kid is also there for the same reason. She tries to deceive Hayate by telling him she is not Misato, but simply a traveling Goze (blind musician). She says she is Tatsumiya's bodyguard and he should leave before she alerts the others. Too late, Tatsumiya's men enter and chase after Hayate. Misato throws something at him which he carries back to Shinpachi.
During his meeting with Shinpachi, he tells him that Misato wishes to die and will most likely do so in her effort to uncover the stolen money. Hayate gives Shin the bell that she threw at him. As Shin swings it to and fro, the other Iga rush into the room. A special "silent" bell, only the Iga can hear it. They then figure that Misato purposely sent the bell Shin's way. Later on, the thugs that robbed the government funds see the little girl, Omiyo, that escaped that time. They grab her but Shin is nearby and whisks her away. The little girl mentions her blind sister.
Shin goes to the gambling house where Misato is secretly working. When he speaks, she knows it's him. The two engage in a game. Shin purposely loses big money to the house. Tatsumiya agrees to lend Shin some chips. Shin then responds, "Will you lend me 100,000 ryo?" He continues to jest with the gangsters all the while swinging the silent bell as he exits the casino.
That night, Shin meets with Misato in a fog enshrouded street. He tries to convince her to come back with him to allow doctor Gennai to cure her blindness. Nonetheless, she wishes to test her skill once more while she is blind. Shin pleads with her to return telling her, "You should be an ordinary woman...I want you to." Touched by his request she replies as to how you can change what you already are in relation to her life altering choice to be a ninja. On his way back to Yamabiko, Shin is attacked by an assassin named Kakei.
Kofu Inspector, Tsutsui Shogen receives an unknown letter stating that the stolen money can be found with Sake Brewer, Tatsumiya. Tsutsui's bodyguard, Kakei goes to Tatsumiya to scold him and his men for lack of security. Turns out the Inspector is in on the robbery as well. Kakei demands that Tatsumiya never mentions the names of O'oka or Sir Tsutsui in relation to the robbery lest they be killed. Misato overhears this conversation and later gives Omiyo a letter to give to Shinpachi the next time she sees him.
Meanwhile, Tatsumiya and his men transport the stolen money to Inspector Tsutsui's lodging. The sound of a Biwa is heard in the background. It is Misato. She attacks the fraudulent Inspector, but before she can move against him, Koga ninjas enter the room encircling her. As the ninjas move in to strike her, at the same time, Shinpachi is reading the letter Omiyo delivered. Inspector Tsutsui takes Misato away to kill her by his own sword but not before she reveals who the Iga was in the gambling house. Meantime, Tsuge Shinpachi makes his way to the Inspector's home alone to rescue Misato.
Fending off multiple attackers by himself, the injured Misato breaks free of her bonds to assist Shin. He is able to kill all the ninjas then squares off against Kakei. Shin defeats him but he is then surrounded by the Inspectors rifle toting guards. Tsutsui fires at Shin, but Misato takes the bullet for him. The riflemen then prepare to kill Shinpachi. At that instant, the other Shadow Warriors arrive and quickly lay waste to the Inspector and his men. Shin rushes to Misato's side. At that moment, she says she can see his face, but it quickly fades. Shin takes her away back to doctor Gennai to cure her. The next day, the Iga arrive back in Edo with Shinpachi carrying Misato on his back. She is alive and greeted by Omiyo.
Kameoka Masato debuts as director in this excellent episode. Yet another classic to also feature former Shiina chief, Misato, this episode perfectly balances suspense, thrills, action and drama to deliver another five star programmer. For possibly the first time in series two, Tsuge Shinpachi is put in genuine peril. He goes after Misato alone and nearly dies but the other Iga show up to save him. The scene where the riflemen surround him and prepare to fire is very gripping.
I can't help but wonder if Misato died in this episode, but fearing audience backlash, shot a happier denouement in which she amazingly survives her sword wounds and a gunshot. The last we see of her is Shin carrying her on his back. The scene prior to this it appeared for all the world that she was dying. This is also the last episode to feature Etsuko Shihomi as Misato which leads me to believe that another ending was indeed shot for this one. Either way, it's still a great ending and the director handles it all marvelously.
Shihomi also gets to play a ZATOICHI type scenario in which she is a blind musician that is also a gambler. She also rescues a little girl and takes her as her own much in the way so many of the ZATOICHI movies featured Katsu's character doing. This episode ends after this scene and there is no last comical moment from Orin. She does have one good bit where she intrudes on Shin and Koroku eating a meal and yet again tries to entice Shin to have his way with her.
Gohei is MIA again, but soon returns for the last three shows. Hayate Kid returns and like most of his appearances, he adds little to the narrative and Sanada's character comes across as little more than a marquee draw considering his popularity at the time in Japan. Definitely one of the best episodes of KAGE NO GUNDAN 2, this one has something for everyone and is a series highpoint.
Continued in Episode Twenty-Three: THE SECRET OF THE WOMEN'S PALACE!!!