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Friday, December 19, 2008

Kage No Gundan 2: Episode 24


Directed by Makiguchi Yuji

A group of individuals inside a brothel are stealthily killed by Kunoichi. The next day, Courtesan Hanasode Tayu, the most popular at Sasaya makes her way down the streets of Edo as the young Iga watch. The popular Courtesan and newcomer, Shirayuki catches Tsuru's attention as does medicine dealer, Buzenya Sukezaemon. Meanwhile, Otoki entertains patrons with her acrobatics. A young boy rushes up and steals her earnings. She and Koroku chase him. They see the boy enter a hut and they are greeted by a man who claims there is no child inside. Claiming the two are treating him as a bandit, the man explains he used to receive a 1,000 koku (a unit of volume to measure a man's wealth; usually determined by the amount of rice needed to feed an individual for a year) stipend once. He runs Otoki and Koroku off.

Later, doctor Gennai enters the bathhouse at Yamabiko all dressed up. Giving Orin and Okei a surprise, he tells them he had business at Chiyoda Castle. Settling down in his usual clothes, Shin and Orin quiz Gennai about his day at the castle. Tsuru enters with a note for the good doctor. Shin notices the note is a Tenbeni letter (red lined paper sent from a prostitute) from the Courtesan, Hanasode. Begging to be taken along, Gennai refuses the young Iga to join him. Displaying an interest in going, Orin interrupts stating that Courtesan's wear too much clothing, "It's hard to remove." Shin replies with, "That's the fun of it."

At the brothel, Gennai has drinks with Hanasode who asks him to stay a few days curtailing the reason for summoning him. Four days later, the young Iga are eager to know what has become of the good doctor. After much pestering, Shin tells them to go on ahead. Orin enters and begs Shin not to go, thinking he will end up in the gay quarters. Tsuruzo, Koroku and Ryukichi all go to Yashiwara to see what has happened to Gennai. Discovering he was summoned to paint a portrait, the young Iga laugh at Gennai as the boys thought he was asked there for romance.

Before leaving, Gennai asks Tsuru to take his ginseng books to the Koishikawa herb nursery. Koroku spies Shirayuki, the girl from the earlier procession talking with her father and brother-- two familiar faces. One is the boy that stole from Otoki and the other is the man that they confronted. Koroku asks her about the little boy, Jotaro.

When asked why a samurai's daughter is living as a prostitute, she says her father, Inoue Zusho, was a former advisor to lord Arima. Arima opposed Shogun Ieshige's succession and was subsequently killed by O'oka. Having no heirs, his house was abolished. All his subjects lost their positions and eventually they all fled. Only the Inoue family remained, with Yukino (Shuriyuki) helping to support her father and brother. Later that evening, Tsuru and Koroku go to Gennai's home to get his books and discover his home in shambles. Thinking the books stolen, an old lady enters and hands them over. As they race to see Gennai, the two Iga are ambushed by a group of Koga ninjas.

Some time after, Gensai Kuroiwa meets with Buzenya Sukezaemon about taking control of the Korean Ginseng trade by kidnapping Hiraga Gennai who claims the sought after plant can be grown in Japan. It's all a plan to boost the war funds for O'oka by tripling the ginseng prices by fooling customers into thinking what they're buying is the Korean variety. Meanwhile, the doctor has finished his portrait of the revered courtesan. Slipping him a truth drug, a Kunoichi using the "Two-Faces Art", knocks the doctor unconscious. But Gennai has thought ahead and taken an antidote prior to smoking the pipe. He tries to escape but is quickly caught along with Shirayuki.

Back at Yamabiko, the Shadow Warriors discuss the devious plans of the villains. Realizing that medicine dealer, Buzenya Sukezaemon is involved, the Iga figure that O'oka wants Gennai's knowledge of growing ginseng in Japan. Later on, the Iga are alerted to a horrible discovery of four dead bodies (the four individuals killed at the outset). Tsuru says they were killed over half a month ago yet Ryukichi says he saw them at Sasaya. Meeting back with Shinpachi, he comes to the conclusion that Sasaya is a lair for the Koga and that the Courtesan, Hanasode was murdered and replaced with someone else; the art of Two Faces disguise.

That night, Buzenya asks Gennai to help him by growing Korean Ginseng stating that killing such a learned man would be such a waste. Gennai refuses stating, "The ginseng is to help the sick and suffering...not to feed O'oka's ambitions." The villains threaten Gennai once more and leave. The doctor looks around and finds some items to use to make an explosive. He and Shirayuki escape but are attacked in the street. The girl gets away, but the doctor is captured again. Rushing back to her home, Yukino (Shirayuki) has led the Koga right to her. Her mother and father are killed in the fray, but Yukino is also stabbed just as Koroku and the other Iga arrive. She is taken back to Yamabiko to recover.

Awakening, Yukino tells the Shadow Warriors that Gennai is in serious danger. At that moment, the Shadow Warriors head into battle. Arriving just as Gennai is about to be killed, the Iga and Koga begin their fight in and around the red light district. The head Kunoichi tries to run but Shinpachi corners her and the two have a duel that extends to the building rooftops. The vicious female ninja is killed and the other Koga are vanquished.

The next day, Koroku ask if Yukino is all right. Then, Gohei appears from over the hill. He has returned after visiting his hometown. He heckles Koroku about the pretty girl asking, "Are you in love again? You sure are fast with the girls." Shinpachi watches the friendly reunion warmly noting, "The pest has come back...It will be fun again!"

Director Yuji returns to deliver a very good, action packed episode that is notable for several reasons. One, there is a very strong female villain that is quite the formidable opponent to Shinpachi. The duel between Shin and Hanasode is possibly the longest duel out of the whole of series two. Second, this episode brings back Gohei who had disappeared without mention. However, when he shows up at the end, it's said he was away visiting family.

There are a couple of humorous scenes that, as most always, revolve around Orin. She's nowhere near the horndog she was in the previous episode, but she's a joy to watch as usual. This show has one of the best final fights and neatly sets up the last two action packed programs. For the next two shows, it's nonstop action and this episode is a nice lead in, even if the conspirator plot point is a bit confused here. A recommendation for action fans.

Continued in Episode Twenty-Five: IGA VS. KOGA: THE LAST BATTLE!!!

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