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Episode 06: THE WOMAN WHO VANISHED INTO THE SPIRIT WORLD (MAKAI NI KIETA ONNA) ***1/2
Directed by Kuroda Yoshiyuki A procession of Shogun Ieshige's followers headed by overseer of the ladies in waiting, Kasugai is attacked by some of O'oka's men. Uta, Koroku and Tsuruzo save them. The Shadow Warriors discuss this new situation involving the O'oku, the Shogun's harem. They assume a strong possibility that O'oka Tadamitsu may be involved, "Control the O'oku and you control the land". Having hired killers to assassinate Kasugai, Lady Yamanobe (one of the 26) returns to deliver the bad news to O'oka. Oine, a member of the O'oku within Chiyoda Castle, comes to visit her brother, Unokichi. Shinpachi shows her around town while she details her life inside the citadel. The O'oku of Chiyoda Castle is broken up into separate palaces and chambers with the various women all vying for a chance to be the wife of the Shogun. The frail minded Shogun, Ieshige had a wife named Masuko. Guarded over by Kasugai, they await an imperial envoy who will arrive in three days time. Masuko must deliver to him the 'Kokoroba', an illustrious crown presented to Ieshige by his in-laws. For over 130 years, the Chief overseer of the O'oku has safe guarded this crown. Summoning a meeting with O'oka, Kasugai asks him why he told Ieshige that the O'oku had planned a revolt against the Shogun. Kasugai asks that he concern himself with affairs of the people and support Ieshige. Insulted by Kasugai, O'oka demands Yamanobe is successful in killing her this time. With the help of the evil doctor Ryoan and another female accomplice, Segawa, a plan is hatched to take over the O'oku. However, the plot requires the murder of one of the harem girls. A plan is also set in motion to steal the valuable Kokoroba. Oine is the unlucky victim. She is framed for breaking a valuable vase belonging to Lady Yamanobe. For her punishment, she is asked to spend the night in the storeroom. That night, Lady Yamanobe and others enter tying Oine's hands and hanging her making the scene appear to be a suicide. Later, Lady Kasugai now realizes there is a plan to ruin her reputation. Back at Yamabiko, Shinpachi decides he will break into the O'oku to learn of Oine's death. However, for the past 200 years, no man has ever entered the harem chambers. The Iga chief sneaks in and seeks audience with Kasugai. He learns nothing from the visit and is attacked by the Shiina upon exiting the castle. Meanwhile, Gennai attends Oine's wake. Before being forced to leave, the good doctor notices markings on her hands revealing it wasn't suicide, but murder. It is also surmised that the crown was sneaked out inside of Oine's stomach; the operation performed by the vile Shogunate physician, Ryoan. The Shadow Warriors head for Kamiyoji Temple--the extraction point to remove the crown as well as the meeting place of the murderers. The Iga confront the villains and recover the crown returning it to Lady Kasugai. Episode six returns to the seriousness of the earlier shows. Director Kuroda handles the material well in keeping with the formula sitcom style the show has become accustomed to. Particularly of interest is Shinpachi's appearance at the end inside the temple. Some subtle use of Iga magic takes place when his form supplants that of a Buddhist statue as smoke engulfs the image. Orin she spends her screen time jealously chasing after Shinpachi sensing he is enamored with the young Oine. Although Orin is around to supply comic relief, it's very low key. Also, Shota, the little boy from episode four, returns briefly near the beginning and the end of this episode. From the dialog, two years time has passed since Shota's first appearance. An alternate version of the closing song is played over the end credits. Not quite as talky as the previous show, episode 6 has some very nasty villains. Although they don't offer much competition for the Shadow Warriors, you want to see them suffer for their earlier crimes. Another solid episode with just a little bit more action than the previous one. Episode six nonetheless features all the ingredients for compelling dramatic television and fans of the KAGE NO GUNDAN series.
Episode 05: THE COURTIER'S SECRET TREASURE MAP (OHAGURO NO HIZU) ***
Directed by Akikazu Ota
Receiving word to come to the woods, Shinpachi and the others find Orin and Tsurozu digging with great rapidity. Orin had found a gold piece and there's thought to be even more buried about. Shinpachi himself digs furiously but soon finds out the gold is fake. Incensed that he has essentially been made a fool of, Shinpachi scolds and punishes the others. There is talk of the location of Takeda Shingen's war funds and Toyotomi Hedeyoshi's treasure, whether they exist or not. Continuing with the light hearted nature of the episode, Orin entices doctor Gennai with an elaborate meal to smooth things over with Shinpachi. At the same time, court noble Nishioji Yorifusa, comes to town searching for doctor Gennai. He is on a journey acquiring poetry throughout the land although his real purpose is obscured for the moment. Having earlier wiped out a group of rebels privy to O'oka's insidious plans with the help of Shiina Misato, Nishioji wishes Misato to join him. To do this, she must betray O'oka Tadamitsu. Nishioji tempts Misato that joining him would be beneficial. His purpose is to procure the famed treasure of Hedeyoshi; the map and instructions of which are spread out inside various books of prose. One book in his possession is missing a crucial page. Realizing the task of finding Hedeyoshi's treasure a near impossible task, Nishioji requires one element that will make his task much easier--doctor Gennai. Magoichi, an Iga friend of Koroku, turns up in Edo and informs Koroku about a map that leads to hidden treasure but he doesn't want to hear about it due to the prior incident with the chief. Magoichi wishes to join up with the band at Yamabiko but for different reasons. Meanwhile, Nishioji has dinner with Hiraga Gennai once more this time enjoying food and drink relegated for common folk. During this meeting, the treacherous courtier tries to convince Gennai to journey to Kyoto with him. Gennai refuses much to the court nobles dismay. Later, Shinpachi is aware there is more to the courtier's intentions than discussing poetry and enjoying wine. Shinpachi says, "He's no ordinary black teeth". In ancient Japan, the practice of Ohaguro, painting the teeth black, was a sign of nobility and beauty. Discounting the notion he could be one of the rebel nobles against O'oka, the Iga keep a close eye on him. Discovering his plan, the young Iga, without notifying Shinpachi, decide to steal Nishioji Yorifusa's notes after learning Magoichi's map is the missing piece of the treasures location. Magoichi breaks in and puts Nishioji to sleep with an Iga trick but to his surprise, it's a substitute. The courtier takes out Magoichi's eyes and demands he hand over the map. He and the other Iga manage to escape. Mortally wounded, Magoichi tells Koroku where the map is hidden. Distraught over the death of his friend, Koroku decides to go for the map alone but Uta, Ryukichi and Otoki decide to go with him. Upon nabbing the map, the Shiina wait in hiding for the Iga engaging them in a fight. They escape but doctor Gennai is kidnapped in the interim by Nishioji's followers. The plan now out in the open, the Iga make their move as do the Shiina when Misato learns that the courtier has designs on the treasure for himself. Nishioji Yorifusa tries to coerce Gennai into pinpointing the exact burial place of the treasure. He relents and says he will accept the courtiers offer. Shinpachi and the Shadow Warriors arrive to save him wiping out his men in the process. Burning all the pieces to the treasure map in front of him, Shinpachi slays Nishioji. Misato appears briefly. Shinpachi triumphant, declares to her that another of the 26 are dead. Misato responds, "None of the 26 are traitors" before turning and walking away. Gennai exits and shows off his "metal detector" he made to buy him some time till the Iga arrived. Asked if it really works Gennai says, "It's just a dream...just a dream!" This a talky, but good episode. The younger stars get lots of screen time (as they do on future shows) and the script does a good job of detailing impulsive behavior prevalent in the younger generation. The character of Nishioji is an interesting one. Like Miyaki Bakushu in episode two, the courtier is out for his own purposes in spite of being one of O'oka's loyalists. He's not a fighter but is proficient in the use of secret weapons such as darts. More depth is added to the character of Shiina Misato. One scene alludes to her honorable, yet stubborn attitude despite her being a villain. Nishioji kills a servant thinking he was eavesdropping them. Angered, Misato says "We're not killers...remember that!" It is here that the court noble attempts to sway Misato to his side, away from O'oka. She warns him never to speak of it again. Misato is well on her way to becoming the most curious personality on KAGE NO GUNDAN 2. This is also the first appearance of the Shadow Warriors in their camouflage regalia. Orin is featured throughout in some lightly comical moments and she is instrumental in the Iga learning what the courtier is really after. The atmosphere of this episode isn't as dark as some others. There are three fights here--two brief skirmishes and an extended action sequence at the end that makes all the intrigue before it worth the wait. Those who don't care for a slow build, may want to skip to the end. Continued in Episode Six: THE WOMAN WHO VANISHED INTO THE SPIRIT WORLD!!!
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I've been a huge movie buff since childhood catching old horror and monster flicks on Shock Theater and kung fu movies at the drive-in during the late 70's and early 80's. I've had a long time fascination with, and appreciate all genres of fantastic cinema, good and bad. One fans cheese is another fans juicy steak. I like both equally and seldom find a film I truly dislike as I will find something of interest in just about anything. The bulk of the films or tv series' seen here are mostly from my childhood, or films I own in what has become an Amazing Colossal DVD collection.