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Friday, December 19, 2008

Kage No Gundan 2: Episode 23

Episode 23: THE SECRET OF THE WOMEN'S PALACE (MA NO FURISODE GOTEN) **1/2 (*** if only for the sheer goofiness and insanity)

Directed by Makiguchi Yuji

***WARNING! This review contains several pics that feature nudity***


Shogun Ieshige's heir, Shigechiyo admires a large hobby horse given to him for his birthday. While he plays in the hallway, Wakasa-dono discusses with the boys mother, Oyo no Kata, that the four year old is ready to take his place as Shogun. Fearing reprisal from the evil O'oka Tadamitsu, Wakasa explains that if Ieshige retires, than O'oka will be powerless to retaliate. As the female guards play with the child in the halls, the light suddenly disappears and a group of warriors dressed in red and sporting glowing masks and katana's jump down from the roof and slay the guards and kidnap the young Shigechiyo.

Matsudaira Shogen, a once great leader in the Shogunate was stripped of his stipend (payment with benefits) and dismissed as an elder. Living the life of a hermit, he plays a game of chess with doctor Gennai when the young prince's nanny pays him a visit. Gennai overhears and reports back to Shinpachi. Shin figures the plan is to kill Shigechiyo. A drunk Orin interrupts the conversation complaining she has no husband nor children. Gennai stirs her up by saying Shin is available. Orin proceeds to strip him of his clothing but he narrowly escapes when he pushes Orin onto Tsuruzo.

Later, the Iga meet and discuss the kidnapping. The Shiina have a group of female warriors known as the Kunoichi Five and Shin figures they were involved in the hijacking. That night, Otoki sneaks into Shiina mansion. Discovering the prince is not being held within the mansion, Otoki is injured by a trap upon exiting the enemy encampment.

The next day, Matsudaira Shogen goes to Sakurada Palace to discuss the missing boy with Lady Kakuko but he is captured by a group of Kunoichi (female ninja spies). Sakurada Palace is home to the barren concubines of the Shogun. They catch a glimpse of the captured Matsudaira as the Kunoichi cart him to his meeting with Rinjuin Kakuko, the former concubine of the retired Shogun Yoshimune. Assured she was responsible for the kidnapping, Kakuko orders her servants to dispose of him.

Learning of Matsudaira's death, Oyo goes into an hysterical fit thinking her son lost forever. Sometime later, Shin enters the bathhouse looking for Tsuruzo and encounters a number of naked females. Orin leads Shin away and asks if he will bear her a child saying, "I have the equipment. It's like letting fine jewels go to waste. You can impregnate someone else, but make me pregnant, too." All the while Shin ogles at the naked ladies in the adjoining room. Orin then goes through a bag Shin is carrying and discovers women's accoutrement's inside. Becoming incensed, Shin manages to escape and again leaves a passing Tsuru to feel Orin's wrath. Since Otoki is injured, the women's clothing are for Tsuru who is to disguise himself as a female and sneak into Sakurada Palace.

Meanwhile, at the Palace, the former concubines recite sutras until Rinjuin walks out riling the head mistress. The other women become entranced remembering their prior encounters with the late Shogun. Outside, Tsuru successfully enters the Palace fooling five male guards. He sits in with the other spoiled and half-crazed former concubines as they fight over gifts. Tsuru then begins to search throughout the Palace for any trace of the prince. Hearing a child's cries, he finds the prince being held inside a tower within the Palace walls. Tsuru is quickly discovered to be a man in disguise. Taken to Rinjuin Kakuko's quarters, he learns that the woman bears a grudge against the former Shogun for never giving her a child upon his death and leaving her trapped within the confines of the Palace forever.

Later, Tsuruzo attempts to get away to alert the other Iga, but is pursued by the Kunoichi. He eludes them long enough to signal his friends waiting below the entrance to the Palace. He is then taken back to Lady Kakuko who beats him repeatedly to get him to reveal his name. One of the women gets sexually aroused watching him take the beating. Kakuko says he will be burned alive. At the same time, the Shadow Warriors are on the move to rescue him. Kakuko has the prince brought out as he will be burned alive along with Tsuru. The women cackle maniacally as the flames grow higher around Tsuruzo. Using his Iga skills, he manages to escape the death trap. The Shadow Warriors enter and duel with the Kunoichi while Kakuko escapes with Shigechiyo.

After defeating the mystical Kunoichi Five, Shinpachi corners the vengeful Rinjuin Kakuko at the cliffs edge. Taking the boy with her, she leaps from the cliff but Shin manages to snatch Shigechiyo from her grasp with his grappling hook. That night, the Shadow Warriors return the young prince to his mother. Later, Shin and the others take a much needed bath. But it's short-lived as a horny Orin enters wishing to wash Shinpachi's back.

Director Yuji returns from the lackluster, but action oriented episode 19, 'The Great Pursuit'. This episode is only slightly better appearing more like the work of exploitation meister, Ikuo Sekimoto with the abundant nudity and fantasy elements. Still, it's an enjoyable affair with an element of unease courtesy of a gaggle of unhinged women, former concubines unable to bear children who have been driven insane from being locked up in Sakurada Palace for years. The first and last appearances of the Kunoichi Five are purely in the fantasy realm with their glowing masks and katanas that look not too far removed from the light sabres in the STAR WARS films.

The comedy is poured on thickly courtesy of Kiki Kirin's Orin character who is far more sexually excited and hot for Shinpachi's body than usual. Her scenes are a riot as usual and help propel the tired plot point of a kidnapped child (there's already been several in this series so far). The sight of Tsuru in drag makes for an unintentionally hilarious moment when he signals to Koroku and Ryukichi in what looks like a cheerleader set sans the pom poms. All in all, it's an okay episode with a quirky edge and lots of comedy that it's impossible to take the kidnapping plot or Kakuko's revenge subplot seriously. Just don't go into this episode expecting dramatics and you'll do just fine.

Continued in Episode Twenty-Four: THE TWO-FACES ART OF KUNOICHI!!!

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